Christopher Nolan Explains Why Movie Theaters Are Changing and Where They're Heading

Christopher Nolan Explains Why Movie Theaters Are Changing and Where They're Heading

Jul 08, 2014

Christopher Nolan lives alongside the likes of James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino in the rarefied stratosphere of filmmakers who can command the entire movie industry's attention every time they make a statement. And so if he's going to take the time to write an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, it's a good idea to hear him out.

So what's Nolan up in arms about now? Well, unlike Spielberg, Lucas and Tarantino, he's not forecasting the death of the cinematic experience. In fact, he's doubling down on the notion that movie theaters will undoubtedly become even more important in the not-too-distant future.

Here are the choice quotes:

"Content" can be ported across phones, watches, gas-station pumps or any other screen, and the idea would be that movie theaters should acknowledge their place as just another of these "platforms," albeit with bigger screens and cupholders.


 Once movies can no longer be defined by technology, you unmask powerful fundamentals—the timelessness, the otherworldliness, the shared experience of these narratives. We moan about intrusive moviegoers, but most of us feel a pang of disappointment when we find ourselves in an empty theater.


These developments will require innovation, experimentation and expense, not cost-cutting exercises disguised as digital "upgrades" or gimmickry aimed at justifying variable ticket pricing. The theatrical window is to the movie business what live concerts are to the music business—and no one goes to a concert to be played an MP3 on a bare stage.


The projects that most obviously lend themselves to such distinctions are spectacles. But if history is any guide, all genres, all budgets will follow. Because the cinema of the future will depend not just on grander presentation, but on the emergence of filmmakers inventive enough to command the focused attention of a crowd for hours.


These new voices will emerge just as we despair that there is nothing left to be discovered. As in the early '90s, when years of bad multiplexing had soured the public on movies, and a young director named Quentin Tarantino ripped through theaters with a profound sense of cinema's past and an instinct for reclaiming cinema's rightful place at the head of popular culture.

So in order to make the theatrical experience more attractive, theaters will have to enhance the experience with better exhibition. Kind of hard to argue with that logic, and it sounds very appealing to us. However, Nolan does get a bit doom and gloom about one aspect of something studios are already trying to do: distribute their films via satellite so that theaters have more freedom over what plays and when. And if that's the case, then this might happen:

A movie's Friday matinees would determine whether it even gets an evening screening, or whether the projector switches back to last week's blockbuster. This process could even be automated based on ticket sales in the interests of "fairness."

Instant reactivity always favors the familiar. New approaches need time to gather support from audiences. Smaller, more unusual films would be shut out.

That's the same kind of system that makes browsing for new movies on Netflix such an annoying process. The system brings all the popular content to the forefront, and once it's there, it stays there, making it harder for small titles to break into the popular circle because finding them takes more work. And man, would it be a nightmare to show up to a theater to see a new indie movie only to discover it's been replaced by an additional screening of Transformers 8: Sorry About the Last One.

But hey, if Christopher Nolan can find a reason to remain optimistic about the future of the movie going experience, we all can, right?





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