Reviving the summer blockbuster in the age of streaming

Cale Strickland, Staff Writer

Prior to the pandemic, summer was a blessing for the domestic box office, as closed schools and blistering temperatures were enough to bring audiences into the air-conditioned auditoriums of the nation’s cineplexes. Summer 2022’s breakout hit, “Top Gun: Maverick”, might be just what local theaters, including Milledgeville’s own AMC, need in a post-pandemic, streaming-dominated world.

Although the domestic box office is no longer in dire straits, it is also not back to pre-pandemic levels. According to CNBC, this past summer’s releases pulled in $3.34 billion, down 21% from 2019’s totals.

However, the season’s box office bounce back is promising, as far fewer films were released in theaters than in summers past. Only 22 Hollywood projects received theatrical releases, a modest number compared to summer 2019’s 42 films.

Even before the pandemic, streaming services posed a major threat to theater chains. Now, in the aftermath of months-long lockdowns, streaming is the new normal.

Dr. John Swinton, an economics professor at GC, believes the pandemic changed the general public’s movie-watching habits and solidified streaming as a cornerstone of entertainment.

“With the pandemic, people were forced to make the best of what they had available,” Swinton said. “For many, this meant adopting newer home entertainment technology and shifting their viewing habits to the home.”

In recent months, moviegoers returned to theaters, but box office success stories are still few and far between. Fewer films are crossed $100 million at the domestic box office than before the pandemic, but “Top Gun: Maverick” and other big hits closed in on — and, in some cases, passed — pre-pandemic records.

Swinton believes rising ticket costs are a large reason for theaters’ concentrated attendance.

“Those who are willing to pay the higher prices will still relish a night out that includes a movie,” said Swinton. “But, for some segments of the population, such as those who used the movie theater as an inexpensive date, a nice, air-conditioned place to spend a Saturday afternoon or as a place to watch classic movies on the big screen at not too expensive a price, the increase in prices will push them out of the market.”

For GC students and staff, a night out at the movies is still affordable, as ticket prices at the AMC Classic Milledgeville 6 are relatively inexpensive: $6 for matinee screenings, $9 for evening screenings.

Bekk Queen, an AMC Classic Milledgeville 6 employee, has been working at Milledgeville’s local theater for several years. Although he has not noticed a drop-off in GC students’ turnout, he has noticed a shift in their tastes.

“The movie tastes have changed over time,” Queen said. “Now, it’s scary movies. Obviously, that’s going to be a big one. It’s a lot of comic book movies — Marvel, DC — and a lot of feel-good movies, like ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’.”

Ryan McGill, a freshman political science major, identified Milledgeville’s AMC as his theater of choice.

“I go to the movies probably five times a year, and I typically go to this movie theater here, in town, probably two to three times,” McGill said.

After seeing the box office begin to recover from its pandemic struggles, Queen is optimistic about the financial future of Milledgeville’s local theater.

“Fall is typically our busiest time of the year — with summer being second — and for fall, we are expecting quite a big turnout with all of the movies we have coming up,” said Queen.