The Movie Theater Is Making a Comeback—Just Not in the Way You Think

Discover which demographics, experiences, and genres are fueling the return to theaters

Photo by Martin Lopez on

There’s no doubt that video streaming has irrevocably changed the movie industry. Two years of pandemic-related shutdowns, as well as the rise of day-and-date releases, accelerated the shift to streaming video and left many wondering whether a new normal for movie viewing was emerging. But while Meta-commissioned research shows that 38% of people surveyed grew comfortable with at-home watching during the pandemic,1 many movie fans are nevertheless eager to return to the cinema.

According to Meta research, more than one in four people surveyed reported plans to attend more movies in the next six months than in the preceding six.1 Here are the demographic cohorts driving the resurgence and the expectations they’re bringing with them to the theater.

Millennial and Gen Z women are at the forefront

It’s no surprise that younger generations are fueling the theater industry’s recovery. But while young males 18–34 made up the largest cohort attending in-person movies over the last two years, more recently, women 18–34 have increased their return to theaters at a faster rate than all other demographics, according to the Meta study.1

With younger generations increasingly coming back to the cinema, it’s clear that movie theaters still have their prominent place at the center of the cultural zeitgeist.

It’s all about immersion

There’s nothing quite like taking in special effects on a large screen in a rumbling theater. According to Meta research, 43% of people surveyed consider special effects a factor when deciding whether to attend a movie in-person.1

And that’s not the only kind of immersion moviegoers are eager for: 41% of people surveyed reported the shared experience of watching a movie as a factor in their decision to attend a theater movie.1

Ready, set, action!

The recent success of several major theatrical releases sheds light on the types of movies people are coming back to see. Meta’s study found that action/adventure and comedy are the genres most likely to lure people back to the theater.1

December 2021 marked a turning point when the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home shattered numerous records and became the third highest-grossing movie of all time.3

Looking ahead, 2022 will be an important year for the future of movie theaters. While the initial return to theaters is gaining steam, box office receipts are still far below 2019 pre-pandemic levels.2 The long-term recovery will likely hinge on how the movie industry responds to viewers’ shifting desires. If the industry can navigate the changing tastes of viewers, theater-popcorn-loving movie buffs are likely to continue to show up and strengthen the comeback of movie theaters.

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