Michael Gallinari
Mike is a US Travel and Leisure Reports Analyst at Mintel. Mike writes reports about consumer travel preferences as well as leisure market research.

Movie theater visitation was down in 2022, with more than half (54%) of people having been to a theater in the past six months. But with society mostly returning back to normal and an overall increased level of comfort with going out in public, theater attendance will continue to increase.

The movie theater is all about experience. The real headwinds that theaters are facing right now center around ideas of value and convenience, especially as inflation weighs so heavily on many consumers and streaming movies is a more budget-friendly option. To counter this, theaters can enhance the experience of going to a movie. 

Here are four ways movie theaters can enhance the experience for attendees:

1. Delivering on value and escapism increases the chances of success
Streaming Enthusiasts are the hardest for theater operators to reach. Although they value escapism the most of all attributes, they aren’t drawn by the visual or audio quality of a picture, nor the ambience of the theater. This means that not only are there fewer opportunities to attract them to the cinema, but the stakes are higher. They expect escape, and a poor theater experience really transgresses their expectations and can drive them further into the comforts and convenience of streaming. Since they have some inclination toward paying more for specific screenings (like screenings that don’t permit unaccompanied teenagers – 35% agree), this could be one option to safeguard their experience.

2. Concessions can be an avenue for a unique experience
The overall appeal of snacks over candy, coupled with the relatively low ranking of alcohol, can indicate that there is a larger movement toward healthier options at movie theater concession stands. There may also be an element of uniqueness at play when it comes to the snacks vs candy debate. Candy is generally mass-produced and the same candy in the theater is available at the grocery or drug store.

Snacks, however, have more individual prep involved, and can thus lead moviegoers to have a more “special” feeling in their experience. This idea of prep could also be aiding the sentiment around full meals and bakery options. To act on this sentiment, movies can consider partnering with local popular snack shops, restaurants and bakeries, bringing their wares in or adjacent to the theater and providing a more unique concessions experience for the guests. 

3. Meals can be a mechanism for savings
Eating a full meal at a movie theater has the most appeal among moviegoers making less than $75K per year. Eating a meal and watching a movie under the same roof is appealing not just for the convenience. Theaters that provide full meals have that many more opportunities for deals, discounts and loyalty program offerings. For instance, Alamo Drafthouse’s “Commandant Level” benefits include a buy-one-get-one entrée perk, promoting not only increased attendance, but encouraging the member to bring a guest as well.

Source: Movietheatreprices.com

4. Cinema Fans are most interested in a theater’s possible events
Almost three quarters of consumers are interested in visiting a special event at a theater. 

Drive-in movies are one of the most appealing events across the board. These types of movie showings made a small comeback during the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, proving popular at a time when discomfort about being indoors around others was highest. Movie theaters can modernize the experience to capitalize on the popularity that these showings had just a couple of years ago. 

Special screenings, meanwhile, can appeal to a variety of demographics depending on the movie; a 40th anniversary of a John Hughes movie and introducing classic kids’ movies to a new audience would both appeal to different potential moviegoing demos.

What we think

Moviegoers seek value
While in recovery, theater attendance remains down compared to pre-pandemic times and with it, revenue. The economic situation makes streaming a movie a more budget-friendly option for some, though as players discontinue the simultaneous theatrical and streaming release experiment, theaters will benefit.

Concessions have room to innovate
While snacks and candy are still popular, guests want more variety at the concession stands. Offering meals, baked goods and mocktails are ways that theaters can appeal to a younger crowd.

Movie events can be a growth area in the future
Moviegoers are broadly interested in special events at movies, such as drive-ins, outdoor showings and live accompaniments. Theaters should focus on overall experience if it wants to use such screening as an effective tool to bring in crossover audiences down the line.