Movie Theaters & Peanut Butter? No Thanks.
Updated: Jul 25
I avoided movie theaters before it was cool. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, I was already going out of my way to steer clear of cinemas. To people pre-COVID, this may have been a shocking admission. After all, they reasoned, how could I not like movie theaters? But before you pass judgement upon me, let me explain myself. It is important to note that I did not say, "I don't like movie theaters" or even "I never go to movie theaters." What I said was, "I avoid movie theaters." Confused? Well, it's complicated--much like my relationship with peanut butter. To help you understand my feelings about movie theaters, you first need to understand my problem with peanut butter.
A Sticky Situation
Let me make it clear: I dearly love peanut butter. I used to eat it with everything--oatmeal, apples, ice cream, and yogurt. I spread it on toast, slathered it on pancakes, and dipped my celery sticks in it. But then I found out that peanuts are a potential source of aflatoxins, which are toxic compounds formed by a type of mold that grows underground. According to Kris Gunnars' article entitled "Is Peanut Butter Good or Bad for Your Health?", this mold has been associated with an increased risk of liver cancer, stunted growth, and mental retardation (Healthline, 2018). By itself, however, this is not a good enough reason to give up one of life's guilty pleasures. After all, coffee contains ground cockroaches, and yet millions of people seem to be doing just fine (the caffeine, on the other hand...).
But Kris sounded the death knell of my love of peanut butter when he pointed out that "the main problem with peanut butter is that it's so incredibly hard to resist...So if you have a tendency to binge on peanut butter, it may be best to avoid it altogether." If I was being truly honest with myself, I had to admit that I was addicted to the creamy, gooey deliciousness of peanut butter. For far too long, I had consumed too much too often, far exceeding the daily recommended serving size. Sadly, I abandoned the uncontrolled goodness of peanut butter in favor of more restrained serving sizes of substitute options such as sunflower seed butter. But I did not part with peanut butter peacefully.
A Sensible Solution
Let's be clear: my preference for peanut butter has not changed. It's not that I don't like peanut butter--because I certainly do! And it's not that I don't eat a little peanut butter now and then--because I certainly do! After all, it's not that I like sunflower seed butter better than peanut butter--because I certainly don't! However, I feel that the benefits of avoiding the excesses of peanut butter far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of eating it regularly and in unhealthy doses.
In many ways, movie theaters are much like peanut butter. They are fine in small doses, but they are toxic mainly because they are incredibly hard to resist. I readily admit that the buttery smell of popcorn, the plush seats, the red carpeting, the cool darkness, the surround sound system, the enormous silver screen, and the RealD 3D glasses make the experience exciting and unforgettable. However, I try to avoid movie theaters when possible, for the four following primary reasons: cost, convenience, conscience, and COVID.
My first reason for avoiding movie theaters is purely economical. To start with, theaters never allow you to bring food or drink into the auditorium. For this reason, it becomes extremely tempting to purchase the over-priced popcorn, snacks, and beverages they are eagerly selling. By the time you add in the cost of food, the current price of a movie ticket is roughly twice as expensive as paying a monthly subscription to watch the film on a digital streaming platform, about the same as buying the DVD version, or half the cost of purchasing the Blu-ray disc version. Although it is becoming more common for a film to come out on digital the same day as it does in theaters, the fact remains that in-person films are expensive simply because they can only be seen once. If there is an interruption in the middle of the movie, there is no rewind or pause button. There are no subtitles or bonus features at a theater. This means that I have a logical personal financial choice: Would I rather watch the movie once in theaters by myself with overpriced popcorn, or watch it an unlimited number of times at home with any number of family and friends with any snacks I want? I've already mentioned that the DVD and Blu-ray versions include extra bonus features, foreign language tracks, subtitles, and commentaries. What I haven't mentioned is that movie theaters do generally have bigger screens and better sound systems that what most individuals can afford at home. But even with these slim advantages, movie theaters simply don't offer enough value to the average consumer to make it fiscally responsible to purchase a ticket. Instead, it's no wonder that people are increasingly willing to accept a "good-enough" setup at home without breaking the bank.
Convenience My second reason for avoiding movie theaters is driven by convenience. In order to watch a film at the local theater, I must leave my house and walk, bike, bus, or drive all the way there (often late at night). This transportation, of course, takes time and money. Then, I must arrive promptly in time for one of the predetermined showtimes, or I will miss the movie. Even if I have a ticket, the film will not wait for me. Even worse, if I arrive on time, I will be forced to sit through a half hour or more of commercials and advertisements. Once the movie mercifully begins, I often have noisy people sitting near me who distract me from the movie with whispering, munching, and checking their mobile phones. As mentioned in the previous section, I will miss part of the movie if I need to go restroom or get a water refill. At home, however, these downsides do not exist. I can watch a movie whenever it is most convenient, enjoying peace and quiet. At home, I can pause the movie without missing anything. Even better, I can watch a movie with my friends and family, because they are more willing to watch a film that is already playing at home than to accompany me to the theater and pay for a movie ticket.
My third reason for avoiding movie theaters is based on my conscience. We have all seen movie posters displayed outside theaters, depicting sexual and violent acts. We know that movie theaters show all types and genres of films--even ones that we disapprove of. I have realized that when I buy a ticket, I am not simply supporting that one specific film; I am supporting the entire theater and the hundreds of other movies they show. I certainly do not want to help fund violent films or poorly-directed romantic comedies. By purchasing a movie to watch at home, I can more strategically show my support for a specific studio or a specific film without funding R-rated movies and unnecessary toilet humor. That's why I have thrown my full support behind The Chosen, which is the world's largest crowd-funded media project ever. This multi-season show is being funded completely outside of the Hollywood studio system, which means that the director has creative freedom to make the series that people need, not the series that mega-corporations want.
Of course, no list of reasons for failing to frequent movie theaters would be complete without mentioning the current global pandemic that is currently raging around the world (as of the publication of this blog post). That's why my fourth and final reason for avoiding movie theaters is based on COVID. Despite the fact that pandemics come and go, public health is always a significant concern. Although the common cold and flu are always with us, the pandemic of 2020 was a shocking reminder of just how debilitating illness can be. No one enjoys being sick, and that's why I am taking more control over where I go and who I interact with. Mass shootings not withstanding, it's never a good idea to spend an extended period of time with a large number of strangers indoors, and movie theaters are the biggest offenders. Even wearing a mask won't help when people are actively eating and drinking inside the auditorium. COVID hasn't changed my mind on avoiding movie theaters; it's simply given me another reason to stay away as much as possible.
An Important Exception
Now, it is true that watching movies at home is not always the best solution for every situation. It is certainly not the most efficient way to show a movie, because a movie theater can seat many more people than my couch at home. Watching movies at home usually requires a physical disc, which eventually wears down and wears out. Using a movie-streaming service at home is also not very economical over the long run, as it requires me to pay for both an internet connection and a monthly subscription. However, this is just like my peanut butter situation: despite the deliciousness of movie theaters, watching movies at home is a far healthier habit. Unless a movie theater delivers something that is absolutely impossible to recreate at home.
An Unparalleled Viewing Experience
While there are plenty of films that claim to be "made for the big screen," few actually live up to that claim. Except, of course, James Cameron's Avatar. When it was released in 2009, movie-goers had to experience Avatar in IMAX 3D to get the full James Cameron treatment. They were not disappointed. Now, with the second and third installments of the Avatar franchise set to release in 2022 and 2024, respectively, it is increasingly obvious that a new generation of fans who have never seen the first Avatar need to experience the franchise with the latest technology theaters can offer. Most theaters, however, cannot give Avatar the treatment it deserves; none, that is, except for Cinerama. Located in Seattle, Washington, Cinerama has been called "the best theater west of the Mississippi," and it might possibly be better than that. It is the only commercial theater in the US to combine a state-of-the art laser projection system with a professional-grade surround sound system in a historic Cinerama theater.
Despite everything I have said about avoiding movie theaters and all of the solid reasons I have given for watching movies at home, Cinerama stands as the sole exception. If I lived in Seattle, Cinerama would be the best place to experience new and old films. Unfortunately, the same COVID pandemic that has kept me from movie theaters has also made Cinerama's future uncertain. A historic landmark and technological wonder such as Cinerama should not be allowed to slip away from the public's conscience. You can read more about the importance of saving Cinerama in this blog post.