They Have Been Writing The Obituary for Movie Theaters Since the ’50s

By Daniel C. Borschke, FASAE, CAE; Executive Vice President of the National Association of Concessionaires

This column was originally posted on the official NAC website and has been republished with permission.

Like many of you, I have had a life-long love affair with movie theaters; a romance that for many is difficult to explain and comprehend. I recall seeing Star Wars: A New Hope in a small northern Wisconsin theatre that certainly didn’t have all the ambiance our current day cinemas boast, but boy did they have great popcorn. Or walking home in the dark, looking over my shoulder after a late performance of The Exorcist and promising never again to see a horror movie after dark. And then there was the thrill and anxiety of a date with my future wife, Julie, at the Ogden 6 Theatre more than 40 years ago. The movie title I don’t remember, but it was the opportunity to be alone together that made the evening and an entire lifetime so worthwhile and rewarding.

Though I have only been associated professionally with movie theatres for nine years as the executive for the National Association of Concessionaires (NAC), movies and the spectacular facilities that show them have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mother boasted about going to the movies during those dire times of the Depression and World War II and coming home with a piece of china–a dinner plate as a bonus gift for experiencing the double feature, a news reel, and maybe even a cartoon or two. And wow, the popcorn! Sure, you can get popcorn elsewhere, but let’s be honest: the essence of the oil, butter, salt and kernels in a movie theater lobby is something you can’t soon forget. In my case, the hot dog at a movie theater will always be unforgettable. No ketchup ever, of course.

There is something about experiencing a movie communally that is unlike anything else. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Hulu are all fine and are great entertainment alternatives, but even on the biggest of television screens and with the most robust and sophisticated sound systems the experience will never compare with seeing a movie in a theater. Even a lousy film looks and sounds great in an über-glamorous movie palace. It is the ambiance and the food that makes it special. It is the feeling of being a part of a bigger universe where one can imagine memorable times and a better tomorrow. It is cathartic. And we will need just that once we end this pandemic lockdown.

As Richard Roeper, movie critic, Renaissance man, and speaker at the NAC 75th Anniversary EXPO last August stated in a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Our favorite moviegoing memories are all about the shared experience. Even in this streaming age, I’m not sure even a world-class misanthrope would say his favorite movie-watching memory is that time he stayed in bed and ate Cheetos and watched The Irishman on his iPad without taking a single bathroom break.”

Like our parents and grandparents, we are going to look back upon this current experience and remark that life will never be quite the same. We will learn from this pandemic that our former priorities are not the same and that togetherness and family and friends is what it is all about. Movie theaters will be an essential part of our resurrection. We will once again want to be a part of something bigger than us. American society just can’t survive with 300 million-plus loners. We will survive and hopefully will be better because of our shared experience. Be safe and healthy, and see you soon at the movies.