Making a copy of a movie for theatrical display is very expensive. A single print copy costs around $2000, and transport to and from the theater can add hundreds more. If the film is successful, prints often need replacing every few weeks as they can be damaged in the projector (scratches, breaks, burns, etc.) Wide release of major movies can easily rack up millions of dollars in distribution costs. In contrast, digital copies are perfect and not damaged by display, and online digital distribution costs can be miniscule - even distribution by physical media would likely run well under $100 per copy.
The focus on digital image has also led to cinema sound upping its game, and there has been a shake-up in this sector in the last year. Immersive or 3D sound is now a reality, with competition between companies and technologies fuelling an exciting sea change in cinema sound systems after two decades of relative stabilityWe're at the point now where digital projectors can match or exceed 35 millimeter film projector quality, and at a cost similar to a new commercial 35-millimeter projector ($50-75 thousand). A typical full digital conversion (digital projected and digital audio conversion for the improved surround sound standards) costs about $65-75 thousand. At that price, major chains and theater groups have been adding digital projection systems to their projection booths over the last few years, and phasing out the old film projectors as movie distributors started offering digital distribution options. By the end of 2012, about three-quarters of all movie screens around the world were equipped for digital display. And about half of those can also display 3-D digital films. In January, 2012, more movies were distributed and displayed digitally than were done via 35 millimeter filmstock.
So now it's official - the major U.S. studios have announced that they will go all-digital for distribution by the end of the year. Distribution on film won't even be offered as an expensive option.
"It’s hard to put so many decades of change in perspective,” said Kurt Wanamaker, a local theater historian. “It is like the transition of audio from tape to CDs to digital. People want better sound and better picture. It’s forced evolution.
"In my lifetime, theaters have moved from showing three or four movies in one showing, to elaborate digital sound from every corner,” Wanamaker said. “Everything is constantly changing and evolving and consumers are demanding the latest technology.”
But perhaps the biggest question in the shift to digital cinema is this:
Can we still call them films?
Sources - Coming Soon: The Summer When You're Expected to Save Drive-in Movie Theaters, Time
Requiem for a Medium, CityPulse
The King is dead, long live the King! The digital revolution brings exciting opportunities, Film Journal