Apr 27, 2024 - Business

Now playing: Movie theater evolution

Illustration of a roller coaster car atop a peak made from a large film reel.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Audiences no longer go to theaters just to watch a movie, they go for an experience.

Why it matters: Theaters are resorting to using screens for non-traditional releases to help fill seats.

State of play: Cinema owners and film execs gathered in Las Vegas to discuss the future of the industry at the annual CinemaCon convention, and one of the key themes that emerged was movie theaters trying to transform into event hubs.

  • Premium large format (PLF) screens, led by Imax and including ScreenX, RDX and Dolby Cinema, have gained increasing importance in recent years.
  • Imax screens accounted for 25% of "Dune 2's" domestic box office performance during its first four weeks.
  • The box office is expecting another challenging year ahead as last year's Hollywood strikes forced delays that upended the film calendar.

What's next: The 100-year-old theater business increasingly needs to broaden the reasons customers might choose to visit

  • Those have included concert films from Taylor Swift and Beyonce, special anniversary screenings for old movies, and TV events, such as this summer's Olympics.
  • Fathom Events, a joint venture between the three largest cinema owners AMC, Regal and Cinemark, also stages special screenings of sporting events and performing arts from New York's Metropolitan Opera.

Case in point: My Axios Pro colleague Natalie Breymeyer rented out a movie theater to watch "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" with a big group of friends to celebrate her partner's birthday.

Follow the money: Theater owners find themselves in need of money, just as audiences demand more from their multiplex.

  • Many theaters are in need of refurbishment and system upgrades, says Michael O'Leary, CEO of National Association of Theater Owners.
  • "We're clearly going through a phase where, in order to meet consumer demand, we need to be more experiential, and there are costs associated with that," O'Leary told Axios at a press conference during the convention.

What they're saying: Andrew Cripps, head of international distribution for Warner Bros., essentially laid out a new mission statement for the industry during the studio's presentation.

  • "We're rewriting the playbook of our business and finding new ways to get audiences back into theaters," he said to the theater owners in the crowd.
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