Hollywood's Survival Depends On Moviegoers Seeing This Many Films A Year

It has been a sobering year for the movie industry, particularly when looking at the state of the box office. We entered 2024 knowing it was likely going to be a down year compared to 2023, when domestic ticket sales topped $9 billion for the first time since the pandemic began. Unfortunately, it's been worse than expected. Ticket sales are pacing more than 20% behind this same point in 2023 and there is little hope on the horizon. So, what can be done to provide hope for Hollywood? In short, people need to start going to the movies more. How we get to that point is a big, complicated question for another time. But what would it take to get the box office back to a healthy place in the pandemic era? That's a question we can at least try to tackle.

What I am about to present is an extremely rough bit of math that attempts to determine how many movies per year the average person would need to see theatrically in order to get back to pre-pandemic levels of domestic box office. For that purpose, we're going to use $10 billion as a target, a number we exceeded every year from 2009 to 2019. That would be a healthy number and one that could get us back to a place of optimism moving forward.

Per current Census data, there are 336.4 million people living in the United States. According to Statista, 82% of people in the U.S. go to the movies at least sometimes, as of 2022. To make the math easier, we'll round down and say that number is 80% (again, rough math). That gives us approximately 269 million eligible moviegoers in the U.S. right now. The current average cost of a movie ticket in the U.S. is $10.78, per The Numbers.

So, how many movies does the average person need to see per year?

If we divide that average ticket price by the $10 billion target number, it means 927,643,785 tickets would need to be sold in a given year. If we divide that number by the number of eligible moviegoers in the U.S., that brings us to 3.44 tickets per year, per person. Now, since a person can't buy half of a ticket, we can make this easy and say that the average person would need to see three or four movies in theaters per year to get us to a healthy place.

Again, this is very rough math, but it does give us some sense of where the goalposts are. Yes, this counts children, but they are important members of the moviegoing public. They may not buy tickets, but their parents sure do. That's why "Kung Fu Panda 4" is one of the biggest movies of 2024 so far, and why John Krasinski's "IF" topped the box office this past weekend despite so-so reviews from critics. Hollywood has to play to everyone.

What's sobering looking over these numbers is that for voracious moviegoers such as myself, three to four movies per year feels like next to nothing. And even just a handful of years ago, that number wasn't difficult to achieve. Moviegoing was a more regular habit for the average person. Unfortunately, the advent of streaming and VOD allowing for new movies to be available from the comfort of home mere weeks after they first hit theaters has changed that dramatically.

Box office numbers that will allow Hollywood to survive but not quite thrive

To be very clear, $10 billion annually wouldn't even necessarily be a thriving theatrical marketplace. It would still be a far cry from 2019, when we hit $11.3 billion domestically. This would just get things back to a more workable level for the industry at large. It's a number that theaters could work with on a longer term basis, one that doesn't leave theater owners struggling to survive week-to-week.

I am not presenting these numbers to yell at people to go see more movies. I understand it's not a change the public needs to make, per se. Hollywood and theater chains of the world need to address this problem and convince the general public that movies are still worth their time on a more regular basis. Maybe that's about making going to the movies cheaper to build that habit back up. Maybe it's investing more in premium experiences such as IMAX. It's certainly a multi-faceted issue that warrants significant discussion. Whatever the solution, it's a problem that must be addressed (and addressed quickly) if we want the theatrical movie business to stay even remotely healthy in the coming years.

I spoke more about this on today's episode of the /News Daily podcast, which you can listen to below:

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