2017 Movie Attendance Hits 24 Year Low


With the 2017 movie season behind us, it hasn’t taken long for the usual “the sky is falling” reports to surface about how movies are in trouble and cinema is dying. The thing is, this time around, I actually kind of believe them. Last summer we heard that the box office revenue was the lowest it had been in over a decade, and then at the end of 2017, initial estimates from Box Office Mojo put movie ticket sales at the lowest they had been in 25 years. Now this week the National Alliance of Theater Owners (NATO) has announced their own stats which put the average ticket sales at the lowest number seen since 1993. But is this all just a minor blip or is it the beginning of a permanent decline for movies?

According to the report from NATO, the estimated number of movie tickets sold in 2017 was 1.23 billion, the lowest since 1993 (1.24 billion). Attendance has been dropping pretty steadily since the early 2000s, and yet ironically, total box office revenue has continued to climb. Last year’s estimated total was $11.1 billion, which is very close to 2016’s record breaking $11.4 billion. The studios are making more money from less ticket sales, which is really only possible because movie ticket prices are still going up (3.7 percent year-over-year).

The lower ticket sales could be attributed to the poor quality of the recent movies (that was the general excuse being bandied about for the weak summer turnout), but the rise of video-on-demand and streaming services has to be a factor as well. Essentially, we’re getting to a place where only the absolute biggest blockbusters will ever get a theatrical release. And maybe that’s all the average person wants anyway. People seem to be fine with only going to a theatre a couple of times a year to see the newest Marvel movies and waiting to watch the rest at home. Do you think movies are slowly dying or was 2017 just a bad year?

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  • Matt Gaffney

    Jay’s been calling it for a while now.

  • Matt Gaffney

    I do think it’s the beginning of becoming a much more niche type of thing to do. If it isn’t already.

  • Jameson

    It’s sad that movies like Blade Runner 2049 or A Cure For Wellness didn’t perform better, because those movies looked incredible on the big screen and should not debut on a streaming service.

    I’d like to think that the social component of literally going out to the movies will keep it going and we don’t all become the humans at the end of WALL-E, but clearly these numbers say otherwise. Obviously people will turn out for the “event” movies (Star Wars, The Avengers) but not much else.

    All that said, I’ve been loving Moviepass and will use it as long as I can till everything implodes and all we get are televisual Netflix movies!

  • Antoine Madack

    It was fun while it lasted, but as has been said, the movie-going experience is coming to a wet, sputtering fart of a death. Good riddance. Long live Netflix, until whatever comes to takes its place. It’s evolution, baby.

  • Lior

    If Hollywood is still making money at the box office, then theatrical presentation will remain intact. It doesn’t matter that less tickets are sold. The botttom line is how much money is made. With rising ticket prices, even an indie film can make money.
    The real watershed moment will be when the studios will actually start losing money in the theatres on a regular basis.

    I think what Jay refers to mostly in the show is the decline of the theatrical *experience*. That is a whole other topic. I’m sure it has something to do with the decline in ticket sales as well, though.

  • dgneb

    I just looked at the Megaplex lineup near my house & this is what it looks like:

    Pitch Perfect 3 (sequel)
    Paddington 2 (sequel)
    Jumanji (re-make)
    Commuter (Basically Taken 6)
    Insidious (Sequel)
    Star Wars: The Last Jedi (sequel)
    Ferdinand (family oriented)
    The Post (Spielberg is getting tired).

    Needless to say, the good ol’ multiplex available to most that live out in the ‘burbs is filled with contrived & recycled garbage that most-likely isn’t of interest to somebody who is truly interested in film.

    While it’s easy to blame the easy accessibility of a large number of streaming providers out there, I at least give them credit for putting out original, risk-taking content from time to time.

    The studios & large theater chains have nobody but themselves to blame for this conundrum.

  • Tommy

    Can we get a special debate segment on the pod with Jay and Reed for the death of cinema and Sean and Frank against?

  • frankw35

    I paid for assigned seating and that jackass in the picture is in my spot.

  • January is normally a rough month for those folks looking for ‘good’ new releases. The best you’ll find is some stuff released in late December that is going for awards contention.

  • Lori Cerny

    Everyone is making really great points.

    I’m thinking movie theaters are heading the way of a lot of stage theatres – closed most of the time except for special engagements and weekends.

  • Netflix sucks. Sure, i still give them their $10/month, but their movie selection blows and they’re really trying to turn into a full exclusive content producer. If anything they’ve hit network tv harder because most people sitting on a couch are faced with a choice of network, cable, Netflix, etc. I still love going to theaters, there’s nothing at home that can equal the buzz of the crowd. Just like going to live sporting events, concerts, live comedy, etc. Sure you can watch games on tv, listen to music at home, watch comedy on YouTube, but being around other people sharing an experience isn’t able to be replicated.

  • The drawbacks are becoming more and more infuriating – phones, talkers, so so many ads, projection issues, only 3D available… But still every now and then I have a great experience that reminds me why I love going to the theatre. Just have to be more careful about what day and time I go, which is tough when the non-blockbusters barely get any airtime.

    The recline-aissance has certainly improved things.