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Movie theaters are open again, and big name, blockbuster, superhero movies are bringing in the crowds. But those crowds have a particular profile: young and male. Middle-aged and older women have not returned to the same extent as their counterparts, and the reasons why remain a topic for debate.

According to some assessments, women tend to be more cautious, so returning to theaters, despite COVID-19 vaccinations and enhanced protections, still is not a risk they are willing to take. But interviews with previous moviegoers do not really support that claim. Rather, female consumers express a common, collective sense of disinterest. Visiting the theater represents an effortful, expensive undertaking—and a ready substitute is available.

Streaming services have made it easier for most consumers to access entertainment content, soon after and sometimes even simultaneous with its big-screen release. For middle-aged women, the prospect of staying at home, in comfortable surroundings, with the snacks and drinks they have on hand, while paying less or nothing to see the same movie, appears to shift the balance of value notably toward at-home viewing.

This value equation in turn implies that, for some reason, young and male viewers find more value in going to the movies. What could that reason be? Some critics note that movie studios continue to churn out content that appeals to young men—loud, adventurous, violent fare—while ignoring the preferences of older and female audiences. Perhaps then, there are simply not enough titles that appeal to women to convince them to go back to the theater.

But perhaps the reasoning is less discriminatory in character. Older women tend to prefer character- and dialogue-driven films, which may not require the sort of big-screen presentations that strongly benefit the viewing of a blockbuster adventure movie. Thor might look a lot bigger on the big screen, and special effects can become a really awesome spectacle in high resolution formats. The romantic lead in a quiet drama instead probably can be appreciated just as much on the television screen at home.

Across these various possible reasons, the implications are similar. Women, especially those older than their mid-30s, used to account for nearly one-quarter of movie theater patrons. Today, that percentage is down below 15 percent. Movie studios and theaters thus need to determine the key factors driving these behaviors and try to resolve them, in their ongoing attempts to stay afloat in the COVID-19, digital streaming era.

Discussion Questions:

1.    Which of the listed reasons seem most convincing to you, regarding why older women have not returned to theaters? Can you think of any others?

2.    What kinds of promotional strategies could movie studios adopt to convince this cohort of consumers to come back? What about movie theaters?

Source: John Jurgenson, “Do Women Still Want to Go to the Movies?” The Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2021