Christopher Nolan: Movie theaters are a vital part of American social life. They will need our help.

by Christopher Nolan


B&B Theatres in Missouri isn’t just a family-run business, it’s the product of a family tradition. The first “B” stands for Bills Theaters, founded in 1924 by Elmer Bills Sr. The second represents the Bagby Traveling Picture Show, formed by one of Bills’s former concession clerks. For generations, these two families found spouses and friends at their theaters and drive-in exhibitions, and eventually merged in 1980. For a century, B&B brought movies to Midwestern audiences. During that time, the company apparently never laid off a single employee. This week, though, B&B shuttered 418 theaters serving audiences in Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas and had to lay off 2,000 workers.

When people think about movies, their minds first go to the stars, the studios, the glamour. But the movie business is about everybody: the people working the concession stands, running the equipment, taking tickets, booking movies, selling advertising and cleaning bathrooms in local theaters. Regular people, many paid hourly wages rather than a salary, earn a living running the most affordable and democratic of our community gathering places.

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In this time of unprecedented challenge and uncertainty, it’s vital to acknowledge the prompt and responsible decisions made by all kinds of companies across our country that have closed their doors in full knowledge of the damage they are doing to their businesses. Our nation’s incredible network of movie theaters is one of these industries, and as Congress considers applications for assistance from all sorts of affected businesses, I hope that people are seeing our exhibition community for what it really is: a vital part of social life, providing jobs for many and entertainment for all. These are places of joyful mingling where workers serve up stories and treats to the crowds that come to enjoy an evening out with friends and family. As a filmmaker, my work can never be complete without those workers and the audiences they welcome.

Journalists too often pit forms of entertainment against each other as if they were in some Darwinian competition for people’s attention. This misses the point. People love to experience stories, because whether they are doing it together or alone, film, television, novels and games engage our emotions and provide us with catharsis.

In uncertain times, there is no more comforting thought than that we’re all in this together, something the moviegoing experience has been reinforcing for generations. In addition to the help theater employees need from the government, the theatrical exhibition community needs strategic and forward-thinking partnership from the studios. The past few weeks have been a reminder, if we needed one, that there are parts of life that are far more important than going to the movies. But, when you consider what theaters provide, maybe not so many as you might think.

Movie theaters have gone dark, and will stay that way for a time. But movies, unlike unsold produce or unearned interest, don’t cease to be of value. Much of this short-term loss is recoverable. When this crisis passes, the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together,will be more powerful than ever. The combination of that pent-up demand and the promise of new movies could boost local economies and contribute billions to our national economy. We don’t just owe it to the 150,000 workers of this great American industry to include them in those we help, we owe it to ourselves. We need what movies can offer us.

Hardest hit right now are workers from businesses such as movies theaters, whose entire appeal is based on humanity’s greatest instinct — and the one now turned against us, which makes this situation so damned hard: the desire to be together. Maybe, like me, you thought you were going to the movies for surround sound, or Goobers, or soda and popcorn, or movie stars. But we weren’t. We were there for each other.


Movie theaters provide a vital platform for most Americans’ social life. Going to movie theaters with families and friends is a memory that has been inheriting for generations of Americans, like what the writer says, “something the moviegoing experience has been reinforcing for generation, ” moviegoing experiences have formed a strong social bond for people. The vastness of the cinematic industry also helps to recruit a large amount of workforce, once the theaters are forced to shut down, hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs and society ought to help them.