The true cinema experience: the importance of movie theaters

Imagine a world without movie theaters, without popcorn, without candy, and without the previews that precede the film. What world does that absence of the theater experience create? The answer is a dull, boring movie-watching experience from a couch. Unfortunately, this hypothetical world is becoming a reality with the continuous rise of streaming services. With the new form of cinema viewing, the audience is not just losing the candy and the materials of a theater, but the overall experience of watching a film on the big screen.

Embed from Getty Images

For years services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu have hosted original work and licensed films. Now other companies, HBO Max and Disney+, have entered the streaming game but with a twist. Along with the original movies and series they develop, they are tampering with films premiering in cinemas. Before these companies, a film would premiere in theaters and then, after some time, be added to streaming services. Some movies are being added directly to the streaming service the same day it premieres in theaters, giving the option to miss the experience.

“I don’t care what anybody says, it’s not the same experience.”

Todd Phillips

Now, what is the movie experience I am speaking of? During an episode of the YouTube series, “The Off Camera Show” hosted by Sam Jones, Todd Phillips, the director of “Joker,” “The Hangover,” and many more, explained how the communal experience is crucial to movie watching. Phillips gives an example referencing his 2009 film: “When you see ‘The Hangover’ with 400 people at the Universal Citywalk (Hollywood theater), and you watch ‘The Hangover’ on HBO, even if it’s your first time watching it, I don’t care what anybody says, it’s not the same experience.” He explains how emotion from the audience, whether it’s laughter or cries, cannot be copied at home. “You can replicate screen size, you can replicate resolution…but you can’t replicate the crowd experience”, Phillips stated and believes that is the difference that separates the film industry from other forms of media.

WARNING: Adult Language included.

The Denis Villeneuve film “Dune” premiered in theaters on October 22. HBO Max has partnered with Legendary Studios to host the film on its streaming service for 31 days, starting on the theatrical release. So subscribers to HBO Max will have access to the movie immediately on Friday. Many people ask, “Why is this such a bad thing?” and point out that they have the film from the comfort of their own home. This is true, but the experience of watching a movie in cinemas is far different from watching one from a living room.

“Dune” Copyright, Legendary Studios

John Nash, class of 2020, was able to see “Dune” ahead of its release. After the viewing, he shared his thoughts on Instagram, stating that it was not only “theater worthy” but “one of the best movie-watching experiences in a while.” 

From my own experience, I have felt the difference between at-home and theater film experiences. On October 1, “The Many Saints of Newark,” the prequel film to HBO’s hit series “The Sopranos,” premiered both HBO Max and in theaters. I decided to get back into the cinema and watched the film opening night on the big screen. I was surrounded by fans of the series as the film progressed with several callbacks and jokes from the show. We, the audience, laughed at the references while subconsciously enjoying the sense of community. Then the film hit a monstrous plot twist that caused a reaction from the crowd. I distinctly remember hearing the gasps and reactions to one pivotal moment. Then as the film closed and the iconic theme song from the show played, we all walked out of the dim theater shaken from the story. A few days later, I rewatched the film at home through HBO Max. After my second viewing, I still loved the movie, but the experience was different. I missed the audience feeling that formed from the giant silver screen.

Movie theaters are a core part of cinema and the art of filmmaking. Streaming services seem to be the future of cinema, but theaters are still, in my opinion, worth the trip outside the comfort of your home. As more movies release at the end of 2021 and into 2022, it may be easier to just stay at home and watch films, but you get what you pay for in these circumstances. Hopefully, production companies see this importance and limit the availability of films premiering on streaming services.

Ethan Webber is a senior member of the Quill and the Multimedia Journalism Class.