Is the Midnight Screening the New Rock Concert?

by Matt Cohen, MTV Insights

Ryan Gosling is nominated for Best Male Performance, for "Drive," in the 2012 MTV Movie Awards. (Photo: Bold Films)

In preparation for the 2012 MTV Movie Awards, we at MTV Insights have been conducting research to understand this generation’s unique relationship with movies  — what movies mean to Millennials, what draws Millennials to the theater, and what constitutes the “magic of movies” for this generation. In this first in a series of posts on our findings, we share a key insight about the theater experience.Having grown up in a world where so much of their social interaction is filtered through digital technology, Millennials are exhibiting an intensified craving for communal experiences that take place in the real world. From Coachella to Occupy Wall Street, we see Millennials seeking to reconnect with each other around real-life “watering holes.” This desire for real-world togetherness also seems to be part of a larger “early-onset nostalgia” among Millennials for a golden earlier time in their “youth” when their experience of the world was more physical, tangible, and less reliant on technology.

On the one hand, it’s about what you can’t do in a movie theater (no laptops, cell phones, tablets, etc.).  It’s one of the few instances in Millennials’ constantly connected lives in which they are truly able to shut out the outside world and be fully present.

“To me, the magic of movies begins by being able to have those couple of hours to tune out all the commotion,” says Christina, 19.

More importantly, however, movie theaters offer a renewed sense of togetherness. Because Millennials have grown accustomed to so many solitary viewing experiences (thanks to an ever-growing number of personal viewing devices), the experience of watching a movie in a crowded theater has an exciting “communal happening” aspect. Case in point: the increasing popularity of midnight screenings.  Formerly a niche ritual reserved for enthusiasts of cult classics like Rocky Horror, midnight screenings are now a mainstream Millennial phenomenon. High school and college students across the country gather to watch premieres of highly-anticipated movies at midnight “rituals,” turning a mere movie-outing into a full-on event, which requires hardcore prep work. Those Harry Potter costumes and Team Jacob/Team Edward T-shirts don’t make themselves!

The way in which Millennials describe the rowdy energy and experience of these midnight screenings is perhaps reminiscent of how Gen X’ers would have described a rock concert, with stories of the crying, screaming, cheering masses, decked out in full fan gear. “It’s the type of fandom that really brings people together,” says Lindsay, 21.

Interestingly, having instant-access to so much content on so many platforms and devices has actually made the theater experience even more sacred for Millennials. As Katherine, 21, puts it, “Watching movies in a theater binds us all together, even if only for 90 minutes.”

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  1. Matt Solomon
    May 1, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

    Agreed! In the digital age, the people we communicate with through our devices take up an increasing portion of our daily conversations in the real world. These “virtual people” we talk with on our phones and computers draw our attention away from actual people present in our immediate environment. We lose the natural experience of verbal communication when we chose to spend our time with those not present. real-world “watering holes” that bar these devices, such as a theatre, are social sanctuaries that allow us to connect with those who are actually present and share the same magical experience of a film.

  2. Matt Solomon
    May 1, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

    Agreed! In the digital age, an increasing portion of our daily attention is consumed by those not immediately present in our lives. When we spend more time communicating with people through our devices, we take time away from connecting with people in our immediate area. We lose the natural communication of verbal speech when we bury ourselves in our tech. Real-world “watering holes” that bar these devices, such as a theatre, are social sanctuaries. We flock to these small slices of our lives where we can spend time with people who are actually present around us and share the same magical experience of “going to the movies.”

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