Study: Audiences Want Metal Detectors in Theaters, But Won’t Pay Extra

By Brett Lang

Despite the recent shooting at a Louisiana screening of Trainwreck, Americans still believe movie theaters are among the safest public places. Three quarters of moviegoers say they feel extremely or very safe in a theater, according to a new study from research firm C4.

Although they feel secure, there are certain security measures that customers support. Nearly a third of moviegoers believe that bags and purses should be checked for weapons before people go into a theater, and 34% believe that lobbies should have armed security personnel and a metal detector. Fourteen percent of respondents pushed for armed security in each theater, the report found.

The study’s authors surveyed 250 moviegoers on July 28 and 29.

“Movie theaters are still up there as safe spaces,” said Ben Spergel, executive vice president of consumer insights at C4. “People really do think of them as places to escape and not think about realities of the world.”

Yet recent acts of violence have threatened to shatter that image of movie theaters as safe havens. The shooting two weeks ago in Lafayette, La., left three people dead and nine injured. It is the second incident of movie theater violence in recent years, coming on the heels of the 2012 shooting of 12 people at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo. The murders have kicked off a debate about what precautions the exhibition industry needs to institute in order to prevent future deaths and injuries. In the days after the shooting, Trainwreck star Amy Schumer threw her support behind legislation designed to address gun violence.

Related: Jury Moves Closer to Death Penalty Sentence for James Holmes

Spergel thinks the nature of the discussion about Lafayette and Aurora has had an impact on consumer’s desire for heightened movie theater security.

“The media coverage has been more about the people who do these acts rather than where they are being done,” he said. “The conversation has been about gun laws and gun use and gun safety.”

Although a substantial portion of moviegoers seemed to want to tighten safety measures, they balked at paying more to help cover the additional costs of installing metal detectors and posting guards. Only 13% of respondents said they would pay $3 more for tickets in order to get those additional security features.

Analysts argued that the box office fallout from the shootings was minimal, and C4’s research seemed to confirm that assessment. In a follow-up study of 124 moviegoers, 85% reported that the shooting in Louisiana will have no impact on their theater habits.

Respondents ranked movie theaters after airports, which boast guards and metal detectors as the third safest spaces, behind their homes and workplaces, and ahead of their cars, stores or malls, churches and concerts. That could change, Spergel noted, and another tragedy may amplify the calls for more preventative steps.

“If this happens again or becomes more of a trend, theaters aren’t going to have a choice,” said Spergel. “They’re going to have to put in some of these measures and moviegoers are going to have to pay more.”