A Long, Hot Summer at the Movies

It's been just a few weeks since the official start of summer. As folks break out their summer whites, dive into the local swimming pool and fire up the grill, one additional seasonal pastime is off to a blazing start: it seems everyone is heading to the movies.

Moviegoers today have plenty of choices for their entertainment -- from television to video games to the beckoning outdoors. Yet the allure of air conditioning and fresh popcorn alone can hardly account for the movie-going masses visiting the theaters in such large numbers. From long-awaited summer sequels to smaller films that make us laugh, think, or both, the movies are enjoying a revival today. First out of the gate were a bevy of fan favorites -- from Spider-man to Shrek to Pirates of the Caribbean. Independents like Waitress found a place in our hearts and continue to thrive at the box office. Knocked Up demonstrated a bull market for films that celebrate the humor of being, well, human. Fans came back to see the gang from Ocean's and just last weekend Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer beat box office figures for the original which debuted in 2005.

The variety of movies today is extraordinary, whether your tastes run to Jason Bourne and John McClane, Jane Austen or Homer Simpson. And, there's so much more ahead from characters we know and love, like Harry Potter and Nancy Drew. We have sober looks at the world around us in A Mighty Heart and Michael Moore's Sicko. There's pure entertainment from Superbad to Transformers. Families, too, can flock two by two to Evan Almighty or seek out animated fare from Ratatouille to Surf's Up.

Popular Internet sites may be the flashy new kids on the entertainment block, but moviehouses rank among the original social networks. As a kid in Kansas, the local cinema was a center of the community. Still today, when we ask teens how they prefer to see movies, over and over they tell us in the theater with friends (apparently, we parents are too embarrassing to be seen with in public). It makes sense to a generation that perpetually seeks out community -- whether it be online gaming, video-sharing or social networking.

It's easy to get nostalgic about the movies. But it's important to appreciate and celebrate the renaissance they are enjoying in the here and now. In a world where a recent study claims that 62% of the country prefers spending time with their computer than with their spouse, it's worth noting that we still seek out the communal experience of going to the movies. In the dark of the moviehouse, there's a rare camaraderie in modern society. We laugh together. In more poignant moments, we collectively pretend there's something stuck in our eyes. It's comforting to know that in our famously wired world, we still like to occasionally unplug and connect instead with one another.

Despite the many choices technology makes possible today (both legal and illegal), amid the lure of video games, DVDs, DVRs and big-screen TVs, people still love going to the movies. In fact, 63% of moviegoers say they prefer seeing movies in the theater to seeing them on their couch.

Movies serve up a common language and experience that bind people, communities and cultures together. To this day, they rank among our nation's most prominent ambassadors. In fact, more than half of the U.S. movie business is now comprised of audiences overseas. We certainly can be proud of the more serious and socially minded fare we share with the world. We also can be heartened that across our many (often quite serious) differences, we can still share a common laugh across cultures -- and perhaps find some hope in that.

Of course, the movie business has several major waves to ride if it intends to pursue an endless summer. We need to continue the roll-out of 3-D digital cinema and other improvements to the movie-going experience. A healthy pipeline of diverse, quality films remains eternally essential. And, we must continue our vigilance against those who steal and illegally distribute films, harming the health of this uniquely American artform.

But at the end of the day, movies are thriving because we love to go see them, and we like the choices and the films available to us today. As Mark Twain once surely posted on his MySpace page, "reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated." The movies are thriving once again -- and that, in my book, is one sequel well worth cheering.

Dan Glickman is the Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.