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Audiences Still Prefer to See ‘Tenet,’ ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ in Movie Theaters, but Most Would Be Fine

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

Courtesy of Warner Bros. (2) and MGM

According to a new survey, most consumers are also fine waiting 90 days after theatrical release to see even must-see movies at home. But drive-ins are another matter.

In July, AMC Theaters and Universal Pictures rocked the industry with their historic deal to collapse the traditional 90-day theatrical window to as little as 17 days before offering first-run features on premium VOD for about $20.

Immediately, industry insiders debated how the deal could weaken the already precarious health of the theatrical experience, with many arguing that shortening the window would only further incentivize audiences to stay at home.

But that ship may have already sailed. In an exclusive new survey from Performance Research in partnership with Full Circle Research, nearly twice as many people said that they would wait the full 90-days to see a must-see movie at home than expressed a desire to see it first in a theater — even after attending movie theaters again is generally considered safe once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.

According to the survey of over 1,000 people in the United States conducted between Aug. 3–10, only 12% said they would definitely see a movie in a theater first if there was a 90-day wait to watch it at home on premium VOD (at a $20 price point). Another 15% said they would probably watch first in a theater.

By contrast, 21% said they would probably wait to watch at home, and 23% said they would definitely wait.

Predictably, consumers’ tolerance for waiting to see a movie at home grows smaller as prospective theatrical windows grow shorter: For a 17-day wait between theatrical and home viewing for a must-see movie, just 16% of respondents said they would probably or definitely choose to see it in a theater first.

Still, the survey revealed some curious bright spot for exhibitors: There appears to be a negligible difference for theatergoing between a 17-day theatrical window and no window at all, with 15% of respondents saying they would probably or definitely choose to see a movie in theaters even if they could watch it immediately at home. That suggests a solid floor of core support for the theatrical experience regardless of home viewing options that exhibitors can build on in the coming months and years as COVID-19 dangers begin to subside.

These questions were also answered about a generic must-see movie. When asked about their preferences for where and when they would see some of the most anticipated titles of the year — all movies that would have opened by now were it not for COVID-19 — a vast majority of respondents expressed a preference for watching those movies in a theater.

Among the titles surveyed, “Tenet,” the mysterious sci-fi thriller from director Christopher Nolan, sparked the highest overall preference for theatrical exhibition, whereas Disney’s “Mulan” had the lowest — though that may be due to the announcement during the survey period that “Mulan” is moving to a premium VOD release on Disney Plus.

Whether those preferences will translate to box office returns is another question. Only 16% of respondents said they only want to see “Tenet” in a theater; the majority, 54%, said that they would prefer seeing it in a theater, but they’re also OK with watching the film at home instead. The James Bond spy thriller “No Time to Die” and the Tom Cruise air force thriller “Top Gun: Maverick” enjoyed the strongest ride-or-die desire to see only in a theater, with 18% and 19% of respondents respectively.

There is one option for theatrical exhibition, however, with widespread interest from respondents: Drive-ins. According to the survey, 42% said they are very interested in attending a drive-in movie, and another 31% said they’re somewhat interested. Just 8%, meanwhile, said they’ve done it already since the COVID-19 pandemic began, suggested a great deal of pent-up demand that is not being met. Studios and exhibitors alike eager to capitalize on any interest consumers may have in the theatrical experience would do well to pay attention.

Variety's Adam B. Vary contributed to this post

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