Fewer Americans Plan to Visit Movie Theaters in 2021

The latest survey from Yahoo Finance and The Harris Poll explores how Americans feel about movie theater re-openings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although 60% of Americans think it is appropriate for indoor movie theaters to reopen with mask and social distancing requirements right now, most Americans have not visited a movie theater since the pandemic began. COVID-19 is not the only reason for this; cost-consciousness, content, and the convenience of streaming have also influenced movie goers’ habits.

Eighty-one percent of Americans have not visited an indoor movie theater since March 2020, COVID-19 being the primary reason. Of this group, more than half (56%) say they have not because of concerns about getting COVID-19 from other visitors, and 20% say they did not think the theater would be cleaned well enough. Additionally, 22% of Americans say they have not visited a theater because there was no movie they wanted to see, and 19% say they would rather stream movies online.

Americans’ current reluctance to visit theaters may affect next year’s viewership, too. One-third (33%) of Americans expect to go to movie theaters less often next year (2021) compared to last year (2019). Of this group, 74% say they plan on going less often because of concerns about getting COVID-19 from other customers, and 38% cite concerns about theater cleanliness.

Many who plan to visit theaters less often next year are also cost-conscious. Thirty-one percent say they will go to theaters less often next year because it’s cheaper to watch movies at home, and 25% say that they have less money in their budget for non-essentials.

What could have theater patrons coming back? Cleanliness and content are two possible solutions. Fifty-six percent of Americans that had not visited a theater since March 2020 said concerns about getting COVID-19 from other visitors was a reason. When asked what precautions would make them more comfortable returning to an indoor movie theater, the majority supported

      • mask and social distancing guidelines for all customers and staff (65%),
      • hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the theater (60%),
      • theaters sanitized by the staff after each show (60%),
      • theaters operating at lower capacities (57%),
      • complimentary sanitizing wipes to clean their seats (52%),
      • and touchless bathrooms (i.e., motion-activated doors, toilets, and sinks) (50%).

Action movies, comedies, and fantasy films may encourage movie-goers to return, too. Twenty-two percent of Americans that had not visited a theater since March 2020 said one reason was because there were no movies they wanted to see. When this group was asked what kinds of movies would encourage them to go to an indoor theater right now, science fiction/fantasy movies (39%), comedies (38%), and action/superhero/spy movies (34%) were their top choices.

Scarcity, or simply losing the option of going to the movies, may also play a role in bringing visitors back to theaters. Thirty-seven percent of movie theater goers would likely watch a movie at their local theater if it were in danger of closing indefinitely in a month due to the pandemic.

Still, many movie goers simply may be waiting on a vaccine. Fifty-three percent of those that had not visited a theater since March 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns say they would feel more comfortable returning to an indoor theater if a vaccine existed.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Yahoo Finance from November 6 – November 9, 2020, among 1,022 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo.

Download the full data here