It’s no secret that the fate of movie theaters has been up in the air for years. Since the start of the global pandemic, this has become more pronounced, with many questioning the safety of public gatherings in places like movie theaters. 

With COVID-19 still a serious reality, CivicScience continues to track how soon people would feel comfortable going to a movie theater (along with other kinds of activities). Recent survey results show that the majority of U.S. adults (68%) say they would feel comfortable returning to theaters now or within two to three weeks. 

That represents the highest percentage recorded since CivicScience began tracking comfort levels in 2020. Even though statistically, this is positive for the movie theater industry, 23% of people stated that they would not be returning to movie theaters until four or more months have passed.

With COVID-19 set to remain a constant worry in our lives for years to come, the media and entertainment industry has moved forward with alternative ways to get the public access to new films. That’s why it’s unsurprising that there have been impressive feats achieved by the film industry, primarily with the move to streaming platforms.

Streaming platforms have become an increasingly popular way to watch new movie releases. Even now, as theaters have reopened and comfort levels grow, more people prefer to stream new movies at home. According to April survey data (n=2,713), when movies are released simultaneously on streaming platforms and in theaters, 40% of U.S. adults prefer to stream at home while 23% prefer to visit a theater. Interestingly, preference for theater-going has decreased from 2021 as preference for streaming new movies has increased.

CivicScience also wanted to determine if movie genres impact viewing preference. The survey results show that people who prefer to stream new movies at home are more likely to watch action movies and drama than people who prefer to see movies in theaters. Curiously, unlike action movies, comedy is more popular among movie-goers, as well as other genres not specifically accounted for by the survey, such as fantasy and sci-fi. 

In fact, a quick look at current and upcoming movie releases shows that sci-fi titles – Jurassic World Dominion and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – are the most likely to draw crowds this spring. That’s followed by new films from Top Gun and Harry Potter franchises.

Additional survey results indicate that viewing preference aligns closely with actual theater-going rates. According to April data, less than 20% of respondents say they go to movie theaters every month while 83% rarely or never see a film in theaters. Among monthly movie-goers, more than three-quarters choose to see a movie in theaters once or twice a month, while close to one-quarter stated that they see three or more movies in theaters each month.  

Age & Gender Differences in Movie Viewing Preferences

Further analysis shows that age and gender play significant roles in whether a person decides to stream at home or watch a movie in theaters for the first time.

Generally, younger people are more likely to go and see a movie in theaters, while older people are more comfortable streaming a new movie at home. The data reveal that 18- to 24-year-olds are nearly just as likely to prefer viewing a movie in theaters as they are streaming it at home. In contrast, less than 20% of people aged 35 and older would watch a film in theaters, with far more choosing to stream instead. 

Women are slightly more likely than men to prefer streaming new movies at home and less likely to prefer going to theaters.

Interestingly, the reasoning behind why people avoid regularly going to movie theaters also varies by both age and gender.

CivicScience surveyed 2,603 U.S. adults who do not regularly go to see movies in theaters. One-third of respondents cited that they don’t go to theaters because they have a lack of interest in what’s being shown. Secondly, many said they don’t visit theaters because it’s more convenient for them to watch movies at home. COVID-19 concerns rank last, behind ticket costs.

Results show that lack of interest in films being shown in theaters is the single biggest reason keeping people of all ages from going to see movies more often, especially those 35 and older. Yet, it’s apparent that COVID-19 continues to influence who chooses to brave a crowded movie theater. Twenty percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are not going to movies because of COVID-19 concerns, compared to just 10% of 35- to 54-year-olds. Older adults are also more likely than younger adults to cite the convenience of watching at home as a main reason.

Men are also more likely than women to express a lack of interest in the films being shown in theaters. However, women are more likely than men to avoid theaters because of COVID-19. Furthermore, an almost equal proportion of men and women surveyed choose not to regularly see movies in theaters because of ticket prices.

It appears that Americans of all ages are still choosing to visit movie theaters, but it’s clear that younger people are significantly more likely than older people to go out to the movies. According to current CivicScience data, 31% of Gen Z adults visit movie theaters each month, compared to just 9% of Baby Boomers.

However, it’s evident that many people would rather stream new movies at home instead. The survey results suggest that both young and old, and men and women alike, are choosing to stay home rather than visit movie theaters because of four primary reasons: they lack interest in what’s being shown; they would rather stay home out of convenience; they have COVID-19 concerns; and they want to avoid paying ticket prices. 

It seems unlikely that people will stop going to movie theaters altogether, but streaming at home is an increasingly popular way for Americans to watch new movies.