Magazine article Newsweek

Movies Suck Now, and They're Only Going to Get Worse; Kiss That Popcorn Goodbye: Audiences Move from Theaters to Hand-Helds

Magazine article Newsweek

Movies Suck Now, and They're Only Going to Get Worse; Kiss That Popcorn Goodbye: Audiences Move from Theaters to Hand-Helds

Article excerpt

Byline: Kevin Maney

If you think the Best Picture Oscar field seems lame this year, just wait. Movies are only going to suck more.

Economic and technological forces are pushing the peculiar art form of the movie toward the same fate as opera and epic poems. Art forms rarely die, but they do get out of step with the times and wind up huddled in a niche, shivering in the cold.

As that happens to movies, talent will flow into more popular and lucrative art forms. It's no coincidence that Woody Allen just signed a deal to produce a series for Amazon.com. As the best talent leaves the movies, the quality of movies will plunge.

The economic side of movies already looks like Tokyo after a Godzilla constitutional. In 2014, the number of people who went to the movies was the lowest in two decades. In 2002, movie attendance in North America hit an all-time high, as theaters sold 1.57 billion tickets. Last year, that dropped to 1.26 billion--down 300 million tickets. Revenue is down 5 percent versus 2013, the biggest decline in nine years. Revenue from other sources, like home video and international showings, isn't saving Hollywood's tuchas like it used to. Americans are watching cheap streaming movies more and buying movies less, and overseas audiences love our cartoonish flicks like The Avengers and Frozen but don't give a crap about stuff like Selma or Boyhood.

At the same time, movies keep getting more expensive to make. Universal Pictures brags that it focuses on "modestly budgeted" films like Unbroken, yet even those cost about $70 million. Now that social media spreads opinions about new movies instantly, a movie has to win a big audience the first weekend or that investment is sunk. There is no middle class in moviemaking--only the few blockbusters, then everything else. The top 1 percent take all. Where's the Occupy Hollywood movement?

These economic troubles are not a blip. They are a trend driven by technology, and the technology is not going away unless some massive cyberattack fries every last digital device.

First of all, theaters have always been the financial locomotive of movies, and technology keeps making them less and less relevant. At this month's Consumer Electronics Show, dozens of companies showed off huge, curved, 4K TVs that display movies as well as any theater screen. Combine that with HD streaming, microwave popcorn and a bottle of Chianti, and there's only one reason left to go to a theater: to see a movie the day it comes out.

But even that advantage is going to fade away. Sony simultaneously released the apparently awful The Interview online and in theaters and made $15 million in four days. Other studios are calculating how long before that release strategy is the norm. "Everybody has to take a look at it because the world has changed," Nikki Rocco, who just retired after nearly 50 years as Universal's head of domestic distribution, told The Associated Press.

The plight goes much deeper than just theaters. Late last year at a conference in New York, Amazon's Jeff Bezos got talking about why books can be a tough sell in today's market. …

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