The popular argument nowadays is that the movie business is tanking because the majority of movies suck. But that’s not really true. Sure, many big, Hollywood movies suck. But for each of those, there are a few smaller, independent movies which are great. In fact, as a whole, I might argue that quality is better than it ever has been thanks to technology greatly driving down the cost to make a film.
As Ebert lays out, the actual problem is with the distribution model. That is, most movie theaters in the U.S. are set up to play only the big ticket items — and again, a good percentage of that is crap. Massive films like Avatar and The Dark Knight disguise this — but only temporarily. This year there wasn’t a film of that magnitude, so we’re seeing it.
Here’s a shocker: the theaters showing actual good movies are doing quite well.
I see a healthy number of movies myself — at least one a week, sometimes two. But I rarely go to the AMCs of the world (in fact, the only time I’ve been to one recently was to see an IMAX). I go to theaters like Sundance which pride themselves on the quality of the experience and the quality of the films they show. You buy a reserved seat and you can buy a drink for the showing. Because it’s a bit more expensive, the audience tends to be better behaved as well. It’s well worth the money.
Ebert has this exactly right and the theater industry would be wise to listen to him. But they won’t. Because next year, we’ll get The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit and a few other massive films. And they’ll think everything is just fine again. And they’ll keep on thinking that until they go out of business. Which will happen.