‘Movie Theaters Are the Marketplace of Free Ideas’

What is a misconception people have about the movie theater business that you’ve tried to correct but didn’t succeed?

Ticket prices. Even through all the innovations and improvements in the technology, and the sound systems and the premium screens — all the ways that we’ve improved the cinema experience over the last decade or two, it’s still the case that the average price of a ticket today on a cost-of-living basis is less than it was in the 1970s. And yet people always say movie tickets are too expensive.

What are the biggest challenges facing the theatrical exhibition business going forward?

I think the existential challenges — the pandemic, the streaming wars — are gone. I’m really the most optimistic I’ve been in 30 years about the future of the business. The biggest immediate challenge is it’s going to take a while to fix the balance sheets.

Long term, it’s still about two things: the creation and distribution of really good movies that appeal to all demographics in all different genres, with diverse casts and diverse themes, and really good operational experiences at theaters that also offer diversity and different value-based judgments. If the studio partners keep making really good movies that appeal to diverse audiences, and we keep innovating and upgrading cinema experiences, I’m very bullish on the long-term health of the industry.

Were you a movie lover before you took this job?

I like movies. But I was principally a First Amendment lover, and a First Amendment lawyer in Washington. Our members will play everything: the most radical, left-wing anarchist film, the most conservative religious film, and we get protests on both sides. To me it was always like, “Bring it on.” Movie theaters are the town halls of modern society. It’s where people go to experience something collectively, and then debate the issues of the day.

What is the thing you are going to miss the least?

I don’t know who I’m going to miss the least, the really aggressive know-it-alls in Hollywood or the really aggressive know-it-alls in Washington, D.C. A lot of these people are my really good friends, and I’ll have some lasting relationships with both creatives and studio executives, but, you know, sometimes just because you run a big studio or you’re a United States senator doesn’t mean you know everything. I will not miss that.

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