American Jason Stark's two young sons talked excitedly for months about seeing the The Super Mario Bros. Movie. When the film opened this month, Stark decided to make a special event of taking his boys to the show.
Stark took a day off from work and drove his boys, ages 9 and 6, about a half-hour from their Connecticut home. They went to watch the movie at an AMC theater with a large special screen called an IMAX.
"We got lunch, we went to the movies and had a fun day together," said Stark. "They loved it. They were amazed by how big (the screen) was."
Filmmakers and theater business leaders say movie watchers are seeking such new, interesting experiences. American and Canadian ticket sales this year are 16 percent below 2019. However, people have attended movies in large numbers for films and showings that use special effects, including Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water.
Jim Orr is president of U.S. distribution for Universal Pictures. Orr said, "Those that are the most enthusiastic about being in theaters want the biggest, best and most experiential time that they can possibly have.”
Theaters are employing technology to create improved experiences. Changes include larger screens, special sound systems, seats that move in connection with action in a film and other environmental effects.
Market researcher Comscore predicts these special presentations will account for 16.7 percent of U.S. movie ticket sales. The company says that number was 9.2 percent in 2019.
Theater companies continue to build large, special viewing screens known as premium format. The total number of premium format screens in North America reached 1,940 in 2022 says Omdia, another research company. It says the new number represents an increase of 4.4 percent over the year before.
Special screen choices include IMAX and various premium large formats created by theater companies.
The average ticket price to see a movie in the U.S. is around $11. Premium screenings usually cost five to seven dollars more.
B&B Theatres operates 531 screens in 14 states and offers large format screens as well as heated chairs that can be raised and lowered, immersive audio and seats timed to move with a movie’s action.
"Post-COVID, our premium screens are selling better than ever," said Brock Bagby, Chief Content, Programming, and Development Officer of B&B Theaters.
A movie theater that has many screens is known as a multiplex. About half of a multiplex's profits now come from premium formats, Bagby said. It was 30 percent of profits before the pandemic, he added.
Interest in IMAX is growing around the world, IMAX Corp. Chief Executive Richard Gelfond said.
The company has signed 62 agreements for new or upgraded screens so far in 2023. That number is already more than all of the agreements in 2022, the company told the Reuters news agency. The company expects gross IMAX box office revenue to reach pre-pandemic levels this year.
Gelfond noted that Hollywood now sends more action and effects-filled movies to theaters.
"For these kinds of cultural event films, people want to see them in IMAX," Gelfond said. "These films have become more like global cultural experiences….”
As a sign of its importance, Universal's Orr and other distribution chiefs said they communicate with Gelfond about IMAX screen availability before setting movie release dates.
This summer will test how much moviegoers want special experiences, said Jeff Bock of the company Exhibitor Relations. Large screens will be busy starting in May with Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, followed in late July with the film Oppenheimer, and into August, when the shark movie The Meg 2 opens.
After that, movie release plans are filled with adult dramas, which do not offer the same excitement on a big screen, Bock said.
I’m John Russell.
Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
excitedly – adv. to stir up feeling in
ticket – n. an object showing that an admission price has been paid
screen – n. a flat surface on which a picture or series of pictures is projected
amazed – adj. feeling or showing great surprise or wonder
distribution – n. the act or process of giving out things
enthusiastic – adj. feeling or showing strong excitement about
immersive – adj. providing deep absorption or immersion in something
drama – n. a play, movie, or television production with a serious tone or subject