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In Remembrance Of The Regal Union Square Theater

Cineworld plans to close 39 Regal locations across the United States, including New York's grossest theater.

To be clear, New York City’s Union Square Stadium 14 was a disgusting, tacky, over-priced dump of a movie theater. 

But it was my disgusting, tacky, over-priced dump of a movie theater.

And now it’s yet another thing this cruel decade has taken from me, as Regal has announced plans to 39 locations across the country, including the Sherman Oaks Galleria cinema in Los Angeles.

This shouldn’t have been a shock, of course. Regal Cinema’s parent company Cineworld   (CNNWF)  filed for bankruptcy last year, due to plummeting admission levels. The company had previously reported it had $5 billion in debt, and had secured $200 million in incremental loans. 

The move is expected to save Cineworld $22 million in costs. But can you truly put a price on the magical place where I once saw a theater full of people scream in ecstasy when they saw Ben Affleck in a state of undress near the end of “Gone Girl"?

Tough Times For Movie Theaters

The pandemic was apocalyptic for theater chains, as AMC, Regal hit all-time-low attendance levels, and understandably so.

Even after vaccines became available, it took a while for attendance to perk back up, and usually only for superhero installments such as “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and that’s just not sustainable.

But even before covid-19, audiences had increasingly become used to the idea of waiting for films to hit the streaming service of their choice, and only venturing out to see the latest big-screen franchise. It’s also been increasingly difficult for nearly any film to cut through the chatter or to win over an audience that now has more options for distraction than ever.

The pandemic now seems like a turning point for the film industry, as global box office likely peaked in 2019 at $42.3 billion, as we recently noted, “that's a number the industry will likely never see again.”

"Taking a look ahead to 2023, Gower Street Analytics is projecting global box office to hit $29 billion, representing a 12% gain on 2022 should this year remain on track for approximately $25.8 billion. The London-based firm estimates 2022 receipts stood at $23.6 billion as of Dec. 10," Deadline reported.

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Rest In Peace To a Pigsty 

Are movie theaters about to go the way of print magazines and broadcast television as yet another thing the internet is making obsolete? 

I wish I could give you an authoritative answer, but the only honest response is “I kinda doubt it, but who knows?”

I have to imagine movie theaters will stick around in some formation, as the theatrical experience has been deeply burrowed into American society for decades.

But there will be less of them, and the gigantic stadium-sized theaters with a million screens will become rarer, as these places are being kept alive by franchise installments, and Hollywood simply can’t have a new Marvel, DC, Star Wars or Harry Potter film out every single weekend. 

Smaller chains like Nitehawk and independent theaters, particularly the ones that offer food and fancy cocktails, will likely continue to exist by catering to the artsy crowd and offering an appealing option for date night. But these places tend to have two to three screens, and are usually only located in big cities and college towns, and not every cinephile can afford to live in those places. 

I’m a huge advocate of the theatrical experience, and while I love the convenience of pausing every time I need to use the bathroom, there is something about the immersive nature of the theater, in which you are forced to not check your email every 10 minutes and your cat can’t demand your attention for a spell, that turns a movie into an experience.

Look, I get it. These days, the average price of a movie ticket is commiserate with a Netflix subscription, and that’s before you factor in a babysitter, parking, dinner and whathaveyou. Staying at home is the more budget friendly option, and most adult dramas land on a streaming service within two months of release.

But you know what happens when you stay home? You don’t get to have any of the magical experiences I’ve had at the Union Square Stadium 14, a wonderful place where the nacho cheese instantly cools and congeals, no one ever throws away their soda cups and you don’t want to think about why your shoes are stuck to the ground.

Union Square Stadium 14 is where I once saw a family of five enjoy a multi-course meal of Chinese food that they had smuggled in. It’s where a particularly randy crowd basically catcalled its way through “Call Me by Your Name” and where I once saw an entire theater stand-up and applaud at the end of “The Dark Knight.” 

I once took a mental health day and saw “District 9” and “Inglourious Basterds” on the same day, hooting along with the crowd when Quentin Tarantino’s heroes anachronistically killed Hitler. It’s where the crowd laughed every time McLovin did anything in “Superbad,” cackled every time those filthy royals backstabbed each other in “The Favourite” and where we all cried for 10 minutes at the end of “Call Me By Your Name.”

These weren’t just movies I watched, these were events, memories I will cherish forever, communal experiences I never could have gotten from home. I only could have gotten them from an absolute pigsty of a theater that always overcharged me, that I always felt unclean in, and that I will always miss from the bottom of my heart.