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  • Lily Warden

Bring Back Movie Theater Intermissions

By: Lily Warden

Photo: Pexels

Everyone has been there. You waited to see the new blockbuster film in theaters for what seems like forever. Opening day finally comes, and you are sitting in the movie theater. Popcorn and drink in hand, the main character is about to save the world, or the couple are about to profess their love for each other, and it hits you. Your bladder is full. Do you risk leaving the theater and missing the most important part of the movie?

A few months ago, I saw A Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds in theaters. I was excited to see the film and enjoyed the movie. However, as Act 3 started, I found myself shifting in my seat. I was enjoying the movie, but I was starting to get restless after sitting for over two hours. My drink and popcorn were empty, and my legs were going stiff from sitting for so long.

If you believe movies have been getting longer over the years, you are not wrong. According to What to Watch, the average run time for movies was 141 minutes (about 2 and a half hours), compared to 2011’s 122 minutes (about 2 hours). Even recent blockbusters have broken the three-hour mark. Oppenheimer’s three hour run time and Killers of the Flower Moon’s three hour and twenty-six-minute run time are just a few examples.

Oppenheimer movie poster, Photo by IMDB

Why are movies getting longer? The simple answer is streaming services. As streaming services become more popular, Hollywood is trying to get the public to attend movie theaters. Longer run times ensure going to the movie theaters is a worthwhile event. Would you rather pay $15 for a 90-minute movie or for a 120-minute movie? Longer film times ensure patrons are getting more for their money when they see movies in theaters.

Furthermore, movies are getting longer because they become available on streaming services after theriacal releases. A 140-minute movie does not feel as long at home when it can be paused, or started one day and finished another.

With movies getting longer, it is time to bring back intermission at movie theaters. Intermissions regarding entertainment media are common. Most plays, ballets, operas, and some concerts even have intermissions built in. Intermissions in live entertainment serve a practical purpose. It gives actors and performers a break and allows scene changes on stage. It might be surprising, but movies used to offer intermissions as well. In the 1950s and 1960s, intermission gave the projectionist time to change film reels. Intermissions in movie theaters used to be common, and still are in countries like Iceland, Switzerland, Egypt, Turkey and India. They fell out of fashion when Hollywood executives realized ditching a 10-minute break allowed movie theaters to show more movies in a day, generating more revenue. According to The Guardian, Gandhi is the last major western film to feature an intermission in 1982. With advancing technology and incentive to make more money, movie theater intermissions have become outdated.

Photo: Pexels

As movie theaters are trying to bounce back from the pandemic and compete with streaming, intermissions can help make movie theaters more money. Although the intermission was cut to increase movie theater profits, bringing it back might be the best way to increase revenue. About half of ticket sales go to the movie studios, while theaters keep all profits made from concessions. Intermissions allow patrons to visit the concession stand and buy more popcorn, candy, snacks and drinks. Without an intermission, it is less likely for patrons to revisit concession stands on their way out of the theater.

Having an intermission in film would also allow patrons to digest their thoughts about the movie. Wouldn’t it be nice to turn and talk about what just happened on screen with your friends without the fear of being shushed? Furthermore, the average attention span during a movie is anywhere from 90-120 minutes. Intermission would allow patrons to take a break from concentrating and digesting the information they have seen. After intermission, patrons can return to the film refreshed and are less likely to become fatigued.

Would audiences even want an intermission if movie theaters offered it? According to Vue Cinemas head Tim Richards, they would. Richards ran an experiment where patrons had the option of watching Killers of the Flower Moon in an uninterrupted viewing or one with a 15-minute intermission. Richards says “Right off the bat, 30 percent of our customers chose to watch the movie with an interval even if it meant staying longer. And 85 percent said they would absolutely come back and watch a movie with an interval.”

Ultimately, change is difficult, especially in a giant industry like Hollywood. Directors are petitioning against bringing back intermissions because they do not want to break the immersion of their films. For audiences, however, it is getting harder to sit through longer movies. For the best interest of audiences and movie theaters alike, it is time to consider bringing back the movie theater intermission.


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