Survey: Despite Box Office Comeback, Reluctance to Return to Theaters Grows

People are less willing to watch new movies in theaters than they were a year ago, despite the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and an accelerated schedule of big new feature films headed for the big screen.

So says a new survey by Whip Media, which attributed the reluctance to continuing concerns about health, the surge in subscription streaming, and the emergence of PVOD.

In the survey, twice as many people said they will see movies in theaters less often than they did in a similar survey a year ago. Among respondents who said they intend to return to theaters in 2021, 24% of respondents said they plan to go to the theater less often, versus 12% in a 2020 survey.

Also, in the 2021 survey, 68% said they plan to go to the movies with the same frequency as before the pandemic, compared with 80% in 2020.

Among respondents who said they will go to the theater less:

  • 67% said the top reason was they can get the movies they like on streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Disney+). This is 21% higher than when asked the same question in 2020.
  • 40% in 2021 said they can watch the movie as a PVOD release, versus 30% in 2020.
  • 52% said they will go less as they are concerned about health and safety (2021) vs. 69% in 2020.


The survey also found that families have fueled a 35% growth in PVOD over the past year.

Meanwhile, the survey asked consumers (who said they are interested in seeing a particular movie) where they preferred to watch it. Marvel’s Black Widow was the movie that viewers most wanted to see in the theater, rather than at home, with 68% of those surveyed saying they would prefer to watch it in the theater versus 32% who plan to watch it at home. The film was followed in the survey by another Marvel Comics-based film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, with 64% of those surveyed preferring to see it in the theater. That movie was followed in the survey by F9 (63% theatrical preference), Suicide Squad (58%) and A Quiet Place II (55%) as the movies viewers most want to see in theaters.

Meanwhile, the top titles in the survey that consumers said they plan to watch at home are family-oriented ones with Space Jam: A New Legacy (69%), Cruella (64%), and Jungle Cruise (61%) topping that list.

Overall, 90% of respondents said they plan to return to the movies, and 28% are already going or ready to go as soon as theaters nearby open.

Whip Media polled U.S. 1,904 consumers April 28-29, 2021, and 6,000 April 29-30, 2020. Results were balanced to reflect U.S. census population gender and age (13-54).

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