That’s a Wrap: Will Military Installation Movie Theaters Disappear?

Technological advancement has changed the film industry substantially over the last 100 years. Until recently, development of new equipment was gradual, meaning there was always a healthy growth of smaller, less-profitable theaters. But, over the last five years, things have changed dramatically.

How will movie theaters across the country adjust to this abrupt about-face?

American Theaters Struggle with Change

Movie Theaters Switching to Digital

AAFES Movie Theater – Caserma, Ederle, United States Army Garrison Vicenza.

35mm film, the industry standard since the 1930s, is rapidly being replaced by digital format movies. Though there are many reasons for the change, including atrophy of the physical film, none matter more to filmmakers and studios than the amount of money they’ll save.

Accordingly, film studios are phasing out 35mm film altogether, which puts the burden of cost on stressed low-budget theater owners.

Switching video mediums means theater owners must buy new projection equipment, computers and sound systems. That’s a huge change for owners, and the costs are monumental: each projection room conversion would cost roughly between $80,000 and $120,000. Your favorite theater may join the nearly 20 percent of all theaters in North America that could disappear because of this cost hurdle.

Military Installations Suffer Same Fate

The exchange service balances the budget for the post exchanges (PX), commissaries, fast-food restaurants, barbers and similar services on military facilities. Because of the budget cuts and more streamlined budget requirements, the exchange service has decided that continued operation of nearly 60 installation theaters is just not cost-effective.

Installation theaters, while offering lower ticket prices for service members and their families, often run movies that have typically spent up to six weeks already running in theaters off-post. The exchange service found that customer attendance has also decreased due to a combination of pay-per-view rentals and Redbox kiosks, DVR and Tivo home recording systems, and services such as Netflix.

All is Not Lost

On-post movie theaters have been part of service members’ lives for many years. They’ve allowed families and friends a place to separate from the business of the military world, if even for two hours, and think about something other than work.

I fondly remember watching the movie “Armageddon” at Ft. McClellan, Alabama during the end of our basic training cycle. It was two hours of “quiet” time that kept me motivated to keep going. I also recall taking my children to see “Spiderman” on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan and how excited and proud they were to stand next to me and show honor to the American flag on the screen.

There is still some good news. The exchange has set aside approximately $7.4 million to upgrade 26 theaters in the U.S. and about 34 overseas. The first four, Camp Zama in Japan, Spangdahlem Air Force Base in Germany, Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and Fort Hood in Texas, will be completed by the end of 2013.

Will this be a wrap for movie theaters? What do you think?

Photo courtesy US Army Africa