How Much Movie Attendance Dropped Last Year

Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

We live in a blockbuster age, with movies regularly hitting $1 billion at the worldwide box office in recent years. With stories of huge opening weekends and massive box office numbers, it would be understandable to think that more people are going to the theater than ever. So it may be a surprise to hear that movie attendance actually dropped last year. The total number of tickets sold fell a whopping 6% to an estimated 1.24 billion tickets sold, resulting in a 24-year low.

These numbers come from the National Alliance of Theater Owners, or NATO (via Variety). In NATO's report, it calculated the total number of tickets sold based on the average ticket price to come up with the 1.24 billion tickets sold. The national ticket average rose 3.7 percent in 2017 to $8.97, up from $8.65 in 2016. This calculation is not exact and does not take into account premium ticket prices for large format or 3D showings, or the much higher ticket prices in major cities like New York and Los Angeles. The new average ticket price of $8.97 is a record high, although depending on what part of the country you live in, a $9 movie ticket might sound like a steal. If the estimate is correct, the 1.24 billion tickets sold would be the lowest since 1993's 1.24 billion. The overall peak for the industry was in 2002 when an estimated 1.52 billion tickets were sold.

The box office actually fell in terms of total revenue as well, dropping 2.3% from 2016 to $11.1 billion. A decrease in box office revenue and a 24-year low in attendance may sound bad, but these things are cyclical. The highest attendance years in the past three decades was from 2002-2004 so overall there is a downward trend, but I imagine the box office will rebound in 2018. While there were some huge films last year like Beauty and the Beast, IT, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the summer was full of bombs and underperformers, like The Mummy, The Dark Tower and Transformers: The Last Knight. Summer is critically important and strong box office performers are needed year round to drive in theatergoers.

It might be easy to think that if movie tickets were cheaper people would go to the theater more, but it is far less simple. Theaters have increasing overhead and exhibition fees, so rising ticket prices simply reflect this. I will be very curious to see how 2018 shakes out in terms of box office and attendance. There are a lot of huge movies this year, including Solo: A Star Wars Story, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Avengers: Infinity War. I am also very interested to see if MoviePass and services like it drive people into theaters and how that might impact attendance numbers. There is clearly a lot of interest in these services, so perhaps these factors might bring people back to the theaters this year. There are a lot of reasons to go to the movies this year and enjoy the communal experience, so check them out in our release guide.

Nick Evans

Nick grew up in Maryland has degrees in Film Studies and Communications. His life goal is to walk the earth, meet people and get into adventures. He’s also still looking for The Adventures of Pete and Pete season 3 on DVD if anyone has a lead.