Even though 40% of U.S. adults report missing the movie theater experience (up two percentage points from May), recent re-openings of theaters in August didn’t see a grand return of movie goers. Leaders and critics within the movie industry fear the worst for the future of silver screen releases, especially as production companies bypass the traditional box office to deliver new releases straight to the homes of viewers.

CivicScience checked in on consumers to see how they felt about going to the theater and streaming new releases.

A monthly view of comfort levels shows a steady decline in the percentage of people who will wait half a year (or more) before going to the movies again. It’s a promising, high-level data point for theaters but the trajectory is still fairly gradual. And if COVID cases surge during the transition from fall to winter, theaters could see a deeper setback.

The question remains, do Americans prefer to stream at home even with theater re-openings and increasing comfort levels?

The Home Theater Experience

According to a recent survey of American adults, many have reported disinterest as overall renting and buying of movies to stream has decreased.

In terms of new releases that skip the in-theater experience, 11% of U.S. adults have purchased or rented one to stream in the last few weeks. The percentages are similar to where they were in May albeit a little lower. This slight dwindling of renting or buying new releases makes sense given there are likely less features to choose from with theaters reopening, not to mention a growing comfort with being in a theater. But if sentiment shifts, so could the rate of renting and buying new releases.

It’s worth noting the impact these tumultuous times have had on major streaming services. For example, people who have canceled their Disney+ subscription are the most likely to say they are comfortable returning to theaters right now.

Month-to-month reporting on users, intenders, and non-users of Disney+ show a very recent (as of August) shift between users and non-users. The two trend lines seem to simultaneously change trajectories, indicating Disney+ is looking at a possible drop in streamers. From CivicScience’s point of view, there are likely Disney+ subscribers who paid for the service to tide themselves over rather than enjoy it long-term.

Netflix, on the other hand, was voted to have the best movie selection when compared with Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. And those who favor Netflix’s movie selection are the least comfortable going to a movie theater now. It’s possible they are satisfied with the films they can get from Netflix and don’t feel the theater is worth the risk.

But CivicScience data also show a general quarter-over-quarter decline in people who say Netflix has the best movie selection. If that continues to trend downward, we wonder if Netflix fans might change their perspective on going to the movies.

It’s impossible to say what the future holds for movie theaters. People do miss going to the movies and after several months of streaming from the living room couch, the big screen might be tempting enough to draw consumers out of their homes.