Are we scared to go back to the movies?
It's been nearly three weeks since the deeply troubling tragedy at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The box office has been weak ever since. Is there a correlation to be made here, or is it just a matter of not-so-good movies being released?
Although The Dark Knight is currently the 20th highest grossing domestic film of all-time, it's been curiously underperforming. It's not nearly doing as well as The Dark Knight did four years ago. It's not even going to come close to beating The Avengers as the top-grossing film of 2012, and will have to put some work in to even beat The Hunger Games.
The Watch, the $70 million sci-fi R-rated comedy, with three pretty big names, has only grossed $31 million. Total Recall opened softly to $25 million, an almost identical number to the original film, released 22 years ago. Even successful franchises like Step Up and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, that already have a built-in audience, have seen its latest offerings open to series low numbers.
It could just be these movies suck. Aside from the The Dark Knight Rises, the four major films that opened since have a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It could be America's fascination with the Olympics. However, the week after the Aurora shootings, a study showed that 20 percent to 25 percent of moviegoers were scared to go back to the movies.
Are we? I don't know. I hope not.
I love movies. I love the experience of going to the theater, getting my ticket ripped, the sticky floors, the familiar smells, the lights as they dim and, for a fleeting hour or two, indulging in my favorite form of escapism. No stress, no phone, no nothing.
Like The Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan said, "the movie theater is my home." I can trace my whole life through the movie theater. The weekly Sunday matinees with my dad. Nervous first dates as a pre-teen to Heath Ledger movies. The Fridays spent at theater in the suburbs that didn't card for R-rated movies, where we snuck in beer and heckled the screen. The incredible sacrifice I made, out of love, to see Twilight movies on opening day.
I went to the movies a few days after the events in Aurora and I felt anxious. I was near the front, with nobody ahead of me. I stared at the emergency exits, irrationally imagining the door opening and what my escape plan would me. Every time I caught someone in my peripheral entering the theater, I stopped and looked. This slight paranoia is unfounded, but still existed. I mean, what are the chances of something like that happening again? But what were the chances of that happening to begin with? It's different than the risk you subconsciously ignore you're taking while driving a car, or flying in an airplane, or indulging in vices.
The movie theater, at least for me, is sacred ground.
I was a student at Northern Illinois University when five people were killed, and many more wounded, by a gunman inside of a lecture hall. I was off campus at the time of the shooting. I didn't know any of the victims or people in that class. Still, it impacted me in such a profoundly surreal way. I couldn't sleep through the night for days after, knowing that something so senseless occurred in the heart of my campus and a quarter of a mile away from my apartment.
We went back to class in lecture halls that seemingly could have been the lecture hall. Normalcy returned after the community united together. While the uneasiness dissipated, for three more years, every day I acknowledged the fact that I was walking by a building where people lost their lives.
The test to disprove this theory comes this weekend, with the release of The Bourne Legacy and The Campaign. Both movies are projected to open with over $30 million, seemingly getting us out of this box office slump, but will they? It's the end of the Olympics. Pre-season football starts. Summer is ending and kids are going back to school soon.
I don't mind any of these circumstantial factors determining whether we go to the movies or not, but I don't want fear to be one of them.
We must reclaim the movie theater as our own.