Depending on who you ask the movie business is either in bad financial shape this year or in really, really bad shape. The numbers break it down in similar fashion depending on what time frame you’re looking at. Per Box Office Mojo, 2014 is down 4.6% from last year at this same time and 6.5% compared to 2012. This isn’t particularly stunning or upsetting news as even a cursory glance at the same chart shows similar drops and equivalent jumps are a common enough occurrence over the years.
But this summer’s box office has seen a far more dramatic decline. 2014’s summer months are down nearly 19% from this time last year, and the July 4th holiday weekend brought in a whopping 46% less than 2013’s. It was actually the lowest it’s been since 1999 — and that’s a pretty scary statistic for those in the movie business.
AMC thinks they have the answer to the decline in audience interest. They’re spending $600 million upgrading the seating in 20% of their theaters to leather recliners. The hope is to draw moviegoers back from their couches and Netflix accounts, and after a year of unchanged prices (“to seed [consumer] behavior”) the ticket costs will go up to account for the rich Corinthian leather. As someone who sees audiences as the consistently worst part of the theater-going experience I’m no fan of this plan. Too many audience members already treat the theater like it’s their own living room — talking, using their cell phone, eating loudly, snoring, letting their baby cry — that the idea of making them feel even more at home is off-putting to say the least.
With that in mind, here are eight things I’d rather see AMC Theaters spend the money on instead of recliners.
This is already the standard in IMAX theaters and several others, but it really should be required across the board for every theater. And I mean every row of seats as well. Currently many auditoriums have the stadium seats and then five to ten rows at the front that are level — rows that already suffer from being too close to the screen — and level seats are the devil’s work. Barring some kind of inhuman giant sitting in front of you, the view of the entire screen should always be unobstructed. Or maybe I just care more about reading subtitles than the average moviegoer.
It’s technically illegal at this point for private citizens to jam cell phone signals, but that snafu aside it should be a simple process of installing frequency jammers in each auditorium timed to activate when the trailers start playing and then deactivate once the credits end. This may sound far-fetched, but France actually legalized the action in movie theaters and concert halls way back in 2004. France!
Concessions would need to be made for 911 calls obviously, but it’s worth leaping over those technological hurdles. Theaters could even go a more basic (and less legally risky) route and simply embed a high amount of metal fragments in the auditorium walls to prevent the cell phone signals from reaching the outside world. And barring even that? Enforcing the already-in-place “no cellphones” rules would be a start.
Quality Control in the Projection Booth
The days of projectionists working diligently in their booth switching reels when the cigarette burn appears are pretty much gone in 2014, but also missing is that set of eyes watching through the small window to ensure everything was playing properly. They’ve been replaced by computers, hard drives and a few taps of a keyboard — download film file, attach trailers and ads, select auditorium and you’re done — and the kids hitting those keys aren’t sticking around to make sure the picture and sound are as they should be. I had two screenings in two days where the audio began playing against a black screen. Minutes passed as the theater’s introductory reel played and the film started — again, with a completely black screen — before it was noticed, stopped and resolved.
Daycare for Crying Babies
Look, I don’t have children, and I sympathize with the need for a night out balanced with the cost of babysitters, but babies should not be allowed into theaters (outside of screenings scheduled for just such a purpose like the kind the Alamo Drafthouse Theaters offer). He/she is getting nothing out of this PG-13 or R-rated movie and is instead, quite probably, going to ruin part of the film for others nearby. Since leaving them at home or in the car is apparently not an option on date night I’d love to see theaters offer a daycare service for the duration of the film. Staff it with trained professionals, and have the kids signed in and out by I.D.-carrying guardians. If IKEA can do it, surely an AMC theater could, too.
Pay Increases for Staff
Theater employees, like workers in most retail-based industries, have to put up with a lot of crap from consumers. It’s difficult to expect them to care as much as we do when they’re paid so little. Maybe if their wages were increased they’d take some pride in the gig, take some ownership in the cleanliness and feel more comfortable stepping up to remove talkers and cell phone users after hearing a complaint.
If a movie start-time is 9:15pm, I’d like the movie to start at 9:15pm. I don’t believe I’m insane for having this expectation. The disparity between listed start and actual start seems to grow wider each year as theaters add more trailers, ads and other junk to their pre-roll, and I see no reason why that stuff couldn’t start earlier while people are getting settled in their seats. Clearly the theater staffs at every theater in the world are unsure what time it is, and clocks would solve that problem handily. The clock would also help employees in the ticket booth say “no” to new customers attempting to get into a show that’s already started.
We’ve all been there. You’re engrossed in a quiet and highly dramatic scene, you’re hanging on every word, and then the mood is interrupted by the mouth-breather beside you chowing down on his crunchy concession-stand snacks as if it tastes better the louder it is. This one would be a bit of a challenge as audiences will bitch and moan if refused popcorn and nachos, but Americans will also eat anything if they’re told it’s their only option. So come on, AMC, let’s invest some money into R&D and start shoveling limp nachos and malleable popcorn into those hungry gullets.
Snipers with Night Vision
No, I’m not suggesting we start killing loud-talkers or assholes on their cell phones — the mess and inevitable screams would distract from the film — but I wouldn’t rush to dismiss expert marksman armed with tranquilizer guns. There would probably be a legal obstacle or two, and maybe some moral complications, but the more immediate issue would be identifying the proper tranq dosage for the various moviegoers. Maybe ticket-buyers would be required to list their weight at the time of purchase? Or maybe scales are inserted into each seat with the data instantly accessible to the snipers?
Look, I’m no legal expert with a chemistry degree. I’m just an idea man who wants people to shut the hell up during the movie.