Why movie theaters are worth saving

I’ll never forget the last movie I went to see before the coronavirus quarantine started.

There wasn’t necessarily a movie I was desperate to see that weekend, but I just really needed to get out of the house. I’d just learned my favorite regional con had been cancelled due to COVID-19, and I was feeling sad and discouraged.

I ended up seeing the movie “Emma” (which was an absolute delight, by the way). I treated myself to a huge bucket of popcorn and then settled in for the show. The theater wasn’t very crowded, but the people that were there seemed to be enjoying the movie as much as I was. I walked out of the theater feeling a little lighter and a little more hopeful.

Going to the movie theater has been one of the things I’ve missed most about being in quarantine. Sometimes I feel guilty about how much I miss going to movies, because it seems like such a small, trivial thing in the scope of everything going on. But for me, there’s something absolutely magical about sitting in the dark and watching a film on a giant screen. It sparks my imagination and reduces my stress, immersing me completely in the story and helping me escape to another world for a couple of hours.

I’ve been closely watching the headlines about how AMC, one of the nation’s primary theater chains, is struggling in the midst of the pandemic, and some analysts worry the chain’s theaters won’t even reopen after the crisis.

I have one theater in my Midwestern town (population 50,000), and it’s owned by AMC. If this theater closed down for good, I would be heartbroken. I know that life will be forever changed once we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, but I hope that theaters will be among the businesses that remain in operation.

Everyone likes to experience film in different ways, and if your preference is to watch stories from within the comfort of your own home, on your own TV, that’s totally okay. The rising cost of cinema tickets is a concern, and I know that going to the theater is a privilege. Subscription programs like AMC’s A-List made the experience more affordable for me, allowing me to see up to three movies a week for about $20 a month.

Affordability and access to art is an important topic, and I hope it’s something people continue to discuss as we all experience unexpected hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe the future of film will shift more to streaming services; that change had already begun to occur, even before COVID-19.

However, I hope that theaters will still play a role in society, and here’s why.

To me, there’s just no replacement for the movie theater experience. Although I’m really thankful for technology like flat screen TVs that dramatically improve picture quality at home, it’s just not the same as a theater.

At least for me, film is an artistic medium that’s best experienced on as big a screen as possible. Watching a movie at home is something I do to pass the time, but going to the theater feels like more of an event. Life’s distractions are stripped away; you have to turn off your cell phone and put it away, and your focus is completely on the story playing out in front of you.

Going to the theater is also a uniquely communal experience in our increasingly disconnected world. When a big geek movie comes out, I always try to go see it on opening weekend. There’s something extra special about watching a blockbuster for the first time in a room crowded with other fans. You really do feel a sense of camaraderie.

As I think back to my first time watching “Star Wars: Episode IX” last December, it just wouldn’t have been the same if I’d seen it sitting in my pajamas on my couch in the basement. Going to the theater with my friends and family, dressing up in my Dark Rey cosplay, and getting the commemorative Star Wars popcorn buckets was such a fun memory that I’ll always treasure.

Lastly, and as strange as it sounds, signing up for an AMC A-List plan was a significant boost to my mental health. I’ve been struggling off and on since May 2019, for a variety of reasons, and going to the movies became an important “happy place” for me.

Maybe on a rough day, I wouldn’t have enough energy to socialize with other people, but going to the movie theater got me out of the house, broke me out of my own negative head-space, and got me around other people, even if I wasn’t interacting with them directly. I always felt better after going to the movies.

I don’t know what the future holds, but as soon as the quarantine is safely lifted, one of the first things I want to do is go back to the movie theater — at this point, I don’t even care what movie is playing. I love going to the movies, and hopefully it’s a pastime I’ll be able to return to soon.

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