Movie theater attendance in 2017 hit a low not seen since the 1990s

Where is everyone?
Where is everyone?
Image: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
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In 1995, Amazon was in its infancy, there was no Netflix or Hulu to stream, DVDs were just being developed, and the most common ways to watch movies were in cinemas or through TV sets and VHS tapes. Movie theater attendance dropped, then began an upward trajectory culminating in 2002.

Last year, admissions in the US and Canada fell to a low not seen since 1995, when they dipped to 1.21 billion. With all the competition from streaming video and TV, it’s a miracle cinemas sold that many tickets at all.

An estimated 1.24 billion movie tickets were sold in the US and Canada last year, a 6% drop from the previous year when growth was flat, according the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), which estimates admissions based on reports from theater owners. The domestic box office hit $11 billion in returns for the third year in a row, driven in part by ticket prices, which rose 4% to $8.97 on average, and a plethora of films offered in 3D and large format screens.

Hollywood floundered in 2017 with a roster of lackluster sequels, reboots, and adaptations that North American audiences showed little enthusiasm for, such as the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers movies, The MummyThe Dark Tower, and Baywatch. The pivotal summer season was bleak—admissions were 92 million short of the previous year’s season, NATO said. Films that took fresh takes on established properties, like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the live-action Beauty and the Beast, and Wonder Woman, led the box office.

In many ways, it was a redux of 1995, when the average cost of a movie ticket rose to $4.35, studios released more movies compared to the previous year, and film production and marketing budgets ballooned, according to Wall Street Journal reports. There were few major hits, and none that matched the success of 1994’s blockbusters The Lion King and Forrest Gump. The top movies in 1995 were Toy Story, Batman Forever, and Apollo 13. Others like Jumanji, which got a sequel last year, Se7en, and Braveheart would later become classics, despite modest box-office showings.