Roger Ebert Blasts Theaters for 2011's Down Year at the Box Office

Roger Ebert - Toronto International Film - 2010
Patrick Jube/Getty Images

The reviewer says high prices for 3D, concessions and popular indie films not being screened by movie-house giants are to blame for the year's poor attendance.

Though 2011 ended on an up note with Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol taking in a total of $134 million over the Christmas and New Year's holiday weekends, it's no secret that the year has been a tough one for the movie industry

American audiences have simply not turned out to the theaters. The domestic box office was down 3.4 percent from 2010, bringing movie attendance down to a 16-year low

PHOTOS: 2011's Hollywood By the Numbers: THR Year in Review

It' a disappointing statistic; especially for a year that started with projections of a box-office rebound due to a plethora of 3D releases. 

But, that didn't happen, in fact, in 2011 audiences often chose the 2-D version of a film over its 3D counterpart

GALLERY: 20 Top Grossing Movies of 2011: THR Year in Review

While many in the movie industry have cited still-emerging technology, the absence of an Avatar-like hit and piracy issues, movie critic Roger Ebert has penned a new essay saying none of those factors are really to blame. 

Ebert acknowledges the lack of a "must-see mass-market movie" was a factor, but he places the rest of the blame for poor attendence squarely on the shoulders of the thearters that screen the films. 

PHOTOS: 15 Biggest Box Office Flops of 2011: THR Year In Review

"Ticket prices are too high," he writes, noting that movies used to be a cheaper entertainment alternative than concerts, sporting events and eating out. "Not so much any longer. No matter what your opinion is about 3D, the charm of paying a hefty surcharge has worn off for the hypothetical family of four."

The same aplies to refreshment prices. "It's an open secret that the actual cost of soft drinks and popcorn is very low," says Ebert. "To justtify their inflated prices, theaters serve portions that are grotesquely oversized ... today's bucket of popcorn would feed a thoroughbred." 

STORY: Jeffrey Katzenberg on the 'Heartbreaking' Decline of 3D (Q&A)

The critic also says the overall movie-going experience is no longer enjoyable due to texting and talking. Instead of dealing with the nuisance, many would rather watch a film from the comfort of their home...which they are doing via Netflix and online-streaming says Ebert. 

He also blames the large theaters for not carrying smaller niche films. "The bright spot in 2011 was the performance of indie, foreign or documentarty films," writes Ebert. "Most moviegoers outside large urban centers can't find those titles in their local gigantiplex. Instead all of the shopping center compounds seem to be showing the same few overhyped disappointments."

And if there was any doubt about the target of his essay, Ebert ends by saying, "Americans love the movies as much as ever. It's the theaters that are losing their charm."