GUEST COLUMN: Going to the Movies Saved Me, Now It’s Time to Save “The Movies”

A general view of the XPlus theatre at the Showcase Cinema de Lux Legacy Place before the Star Wars Marathon event on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019 in Dedham, Mass. (Adam Glanzman/AP Images for Showcase Cinemas)

By Mark Malinowski, Vice President Global Marketing, National Amusements

Full disclosure, I work with Showcase Cinemas. Although I work for the company, this is very much my personal story as what “going to the movies” has meant to my life.

I grew up in the ’70s and early ’80s in central Massachusetts. From an early age, I knew two things: one that I was gay and two that I loved going to the movies. This was a time before social media, LGBTQ acceptance and even DVDs. It was isolating, confusing and even threatening. As a pre-teen/teenage gay kid from rural Massachusetts, going to see a movie in a movie theater was truly my only escape from a daily struggle to survive. Survive at school, survive at home and survive in life.

My father and I were very different people, but the one thing we shared in common was our love of going to the movies. Our favorite cinemas were the Showcase Cinemas in downtown Worcester, Webster Square and White City.

We waited in a block-long line in 1975 to see Jaws at Showcase Webster Square. I remember the cinema was so packed that I had to sit in a woman’s lap. There was no social distancing there, but I didn’t care. I got to see a movie and I got to spend peaceful time with my dad. My father hated space-themed movies, but he took me to Showcase White City during the summer of 1977 to see the original Star Wars. Even though it wasn’t his genre, he admitted to me that what we were seeing up on the screen was like nothing we had ever experienced.

Every week I studied the movie section ads in the newspaper and begged to see now-classic movies in the movie theater. They included ET, Alien, Halloween, Superman: The Movie, The Towering Inferno, Tootsie, 9 to 5, The Shining, and Blade Runner.

It’s now many years later and I work for Showcase Cinemas, a job I dreamed about when I was a kid. At the same time, the world is facing a global pandemic with the Coronavirus and the very quality that makes going to the movies so special – the communal experience – is the thing that threatens its existence.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I know the Film Exhibition Industry will weather this storm. Just like the Industry got through the Great Depression, the introduction of radio, World War II, the advent of television and the continuing technical evolution of home entertainment (home video, DVDs and now streaming). It will get through this crisis because people love the shared experience of seeing a great movie up on the big screen, surrounded by others to laugh, cry and even scream. Just like me, people also have life-long memories of seeing movies together in a theater with their loved ones.

So how can we save the movies at this critical time? There are a number of ways. Buy a gift card from your local theater. If your theater has a membership plan, join when the time is right. Most important of all, be there when movie theaters reopen within the next few months. Because the fact is, there is nothing in the world like going to the movies.

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