Going to the movies is one of the great relaxing escapes for me.
It’s also a man date for one of my best mates and I – once every few weeks, an Indian dinner and a visit to the cinema to catch a flick (with some popcorn thrown in for dessert, of course).
I can’t remember a time when the movies haven’t been part of my life.
For years, my Dad and I would travel into the city every Saturday to see the latest blockbuster at the George Street cinema complex.
I can even remember the train timetable – the 7.33am ‘country’ train from Penrith into Central, and the 2.02pm train home. 3.02pm if the movie was particularly long.
We saw plenty of movies here in Penrith too, including at the Hayden Cinema complex on Lawson Street – where I saw one of my favourite action flicks of the 1990s, ‘Speed’, and 1997’s ‘Titanic’.
I think I saw ‘Home Alone’ about four times one summer holiday – including at Panthers Leagues Club, which had its own cinema back in the day.
A trip to the movies was also in store whenever I’d stay with my grandmother for the school holidays.
Off to Bankstown Hoyts, usually followed by a trip to McDonald’s.
I can remember when she took me to see ‘True Lies’ back in 1994. I was only 11 and she’d heard it featured a raunchy scene involving Jamie Lee Curtis, so she went to see it herself a few days before to give it her tick of approval.
For me there’s nothing like the experience of seeing a movie on the big screen. With your partner, with a mate, on your own… there’s just something special that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
But the future of cinemas, particularly the large multiplexes, has seemingly always been under threat.
Whether it be the rise in home theatres, the introduction of DVDs and later Blu-Rays, or the arrival of Pay TV in Australia, something has always been lurking in the background, ready to pounce and destroy one of the great pastimes.
Streaming services? Well, there’s every chance they may just land the fatal blow, along with COVID-19.
I’ve been going to the movies right through the pandemic, but plenty of others haven’t, and many may never return.
My mate and I sat in near-empty cinemas in 2020 and for chunks of 2021, admittedly seeing movies that perhaps couldn’t dare call themselves blockbusters, or even shadows of blockbusters.
The foyer and the cinemas themselves were like ghost towns, as people became afraid to attend the movies, or in some cases even completely unaware that cinema complexes had reopened pretty quickly after lockdowns were lifted.
Ironically the cinemas were so quiet they were probably among the safest places to be.
But even now, people seem to be spooked about returning to the movies. I constantly see friends shocked that others are at the cinema, as if COVID is lurking behind the slurpee machine, just waiting to attack.
‘Spiderman’ and ‘Scream’ have given things a bit of a boost of late, but that’s another thing – for a movie to succeed at the cinemas these days, it needs to either be a superhero blockbuster, or a niche horror flick.
There’s little room now for middle of the road movies, and the ‘chick flick’ appears to be dead.
Going to the cinemas is still a reasonably cheap experience compared to other entertainment options but when you consider the enormous amounts of content at our fingertips through streaming services at affordable prices these days, it’s understandable why people are choosing to stay home, sit on the couch and play on their phone while they half-watch the latest TV show or made-for-streaming movie.
But we can’t let the experience die out with our generation. Cinema-going is a joyous experience and it would be terrible for our kids to only experience it as a novelty rather than part of growing up.
Perhaps the big chains need to advertise not the movies themselves, but the actual experience. A campaign is needed to reinvigorate the idea of going to the movies, especially in a post-COVID world.
Otherwise, it’ll be gone before we know it, and we’ll all lament its passing into the annals of history.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t been to the movies in a while, now is the time to book those tickets and experience an old joy all over again.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.