Mayfield: Movie theaters could soon become unaffordable for some

Jun 6, 2023, 7:28 AM | Updated: 9:18 am

Let’s all go to the lobby
Let’s all go to the lobby
Let’s all go to the lobby
And get ourselves a treat

I love that jingle. I’ve loved it for my whole life. It fills me with excitement, anticipation, and joy for what I know is to come. E-T, Jurassic Park, Transformers, and so many other opening nights at the movie theater are embedded in my memory and heart.

It was heartbreaking to watch audiences flee during the pandemic and theaters close. I’m glad many were able to access support from federal COVID-19 relief money. But I feared studios would be the death knell as they sent nearly everything directly to streaming.

Well, it turns out the studios still can’t turn a profit on streaming, and they need those lowly movie theaters, and they need us.

My family went back to movie theaters last year and now go on a semi-regular basis. It’s fun to find a family-friendly show, reserve our seats, stock up on those lobby treats, and lose ourselves for 90 or so minutes together.

I love feeling my kids’ reactions to movies, squeezing my hand, laughing out loud, and jumping into my lap when things get scary. I hope they are making movie memories like I am lucky enough to have made my whole life.

And yet, I’m worried.

We’ve seen a dozen movies in the last year, and not a single theater has been full or even half full. We’ve gone to big opening weekends like Mario Bros and Little Mermaid too.

I read this week in the New York Times that theater owners are investing big time in big-screen technology, sound systems, full restaurant menus, and more.

Yet that means the prices are way up now too. Even for a simple Sunday afternoon show. I’m not going to pine for the days of the $2 special at the ancient second-run cinema on bay street in Port Orchard — though I could — instead, I’m going to argue that movies should be for everyone.

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As a society, we are moving at breakneck speed into a place where the gulf between haves and have-nots is touching everything we do. Movies used to be a communal experience where no matter your income or your background, you were all there together, having the same feelings together. And we could all afford to go at least occasionally.

Now you are only allowed that awe, joy, and escape if you make a six-figure income.

I want movie theaters to survive and thrive — I cannot wait for the return of Cinerama and that chocolate popcorn — but I want the experience to survive and thrive for everyone, no matter your income and no matter your zip code.

Let’s all go to the lobby
Let’s all go to the lobby
Let’s all go to the lobby
And get ourselves a treat

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Mayfield: Movie theaters could soon become unaffordable for some