Can a day’s worth of cheap tickets rejuvenate an industry in the grips of a decades-long decline?
This coming Saturday, Sept. 3, is “National Cinema Day,” and in an effort to return movie watchers to theaters, participating businesses are offering $3 tickets for any of their movie showings for the entire day.
Over 3,000 theaters across the country are planning to take part, in a move designed to breathe life back into the industry as they continue to recover from the pandemic-imposed shutdowns.
A recent poll from Gallup suggested that Americans were seeing far fewer films in theaters in 2021 — an average of just 1.4 — than in previous years. Between 2001 and 2007, for instance, Americans saw nearly 5 films per year on average, the survey showed.
But even before the pandemic wreaked havoc on the movie-going experience, ticket sales were already faltering in the U.S., data shows.
In 2002, ticket sales reached a peak, with just under 1.6 billion sold. But by 2019, that number had fallen to 1.2 billion, according to data from The Numbers, a film industry research site. The COVID pandemic all but halted ticket sales the following year, with only 200 million sold. Sales have since improved, but are nowhere close to even the sinking pre-pandemic levels.
And even though theater chains have been charging more money for tickets — $9 or more instead of $4 in the late 1990s – they generally earn less each year when adjusted for inflation, according to The Numbers.
Box office sales totaled over $9 billion in 2002, or over $14 billion in 2022 dollars. By 2019, that had grown to $12 billion but also shrank to $12 billion in adjusted dollars.
As with ticket sales, box office revenue cratered to $2 billion the year the pandemic hit, and has not recovered. For the film industry’s sake, perhaps some cheap tickets will change a few minds about going back to the theater.