The last 18 months has radically changed a lot of people’s relationships with movie theaters. For a long time, theaters were just closed and the steady flow of weekly new releases stopped completely. Cinephiles turned to streaming, and discovered vintage classics they missed or revisited their old favorites. Then theaters started to reopen. At first, there was just a handful of new movies for returning customers. Audiences didn’t come back right away — and in some places theaters closed again as waves of the Covid pandemic came and went.

At this point, pretty much all the country’s theaters are open and the release calendar is full again. The box office isn’t back to normal but it’s improving. Still, there are a lot of people who haven’t returned to theaters. Maybe they’re still cautious about sitting in an enclosed space with strangers for two hours. Maybe they've found it’s easier and cheaper to just watch whatever’s new on Netflix that week. For those folks, their relationship to the big screen has shifted, and perhaps forever.

If you’re one of those people and you need a reason to return to the multiplex, you might want to listen to what Quentin Tarantino had to say on the subject. As a guest on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, he explained why he believes that while TV is “fun” and “good” and you can absolutely love a movie you watch on television, there’s no replacing the theater for the best cinematic experience. For him, it all comes down to that word: experience.

“TV is good ... but it’s also a disposable experience.” Tarantino said. “There is an aspect about it being disposable. When a movie comes out that you’re interested enough to see, and it makes you leave your house and buy a ticket. You could do anything in the world you want that night, but you decide to go to see a film. One film in particular ... And you go and see it and you buy a ticket and you sit down and you have an experience — and you have an experience with a bunch of strangers. And at that moment, once the movie gets going, once the lights are down, you become a collective.”

When that happens, Tarantino added, “and when you have a good experience — it’s not always a good experience — but when you have a good experience, those are the things that stay in your mind and that you remember for the rest of your life. And they become indelible snapshots.”

I think we all have special moviegoing memories that prove Tarantino right. I can tell you where I went to to see Trainspotting or Requiem For a Dream or L.A. Confidential, or pretty much all the movies I saw as a teenager that changed the way I thought about film. (In most cases, I can even tell you where in the theater I sat.) A lot of my first dates with my wife were at a movie theater. And that’s the stuff you remember and cherish. It makes the movies special. Part of what makes television the medium it is is the fact it’s not special; it’s always on, it’s always there, there’s always something to watch next.

Going to a theater is a much more active and intentional experience. That element is something can streaming can never recreate at home. Which is why movie theaters still have a place in our lives.

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