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- The Death of Movie Theaters - May 1, 2020
By Francesco Felici
It is fair to acknowledge that the world after the Covid-19 pandemic will change. There will be – at least in the short term – a reshaping of our way of life, and this will have the most repercussions in the social sphere of our interactions.
Indeed, despite the fact that we are all craving a pint in our favorite bar during this excruciating quarantine, it will take a long time before things go back to “normal”, and for some areas they might never will. Today, in my rubric of Cinema and Society, I want to take a look into how the cinema industry will inevitably be affected, and how this pandemic might sanction the death of movie theatres.
Let us start with some considerations.
First of all, movie theatres are not the landmark they used to be, and their social relevance has faded compared to the golden days of Hollywood. That is, both for the ever-growing market of streaming services – which makes it so that many major productions go directly on streaming rather than in theatre – and for a general change in the Cinema market. Before, people flocked to the theatres, eager to see the latest Blockbusters or the hottest stars on display. Nowadays, a remake with CGI lions makes more money (the Disney-funded remake of The Lion King grossed over $1.6 billion) than a movie starring Leo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino and Kurt Russell ($357.4 milion). It is undeniable that the theatre going experience has changed in the past years, and year after year the movie theatre attendance has steadily declined.
Now, let us add Coronavirus in the picture, by taking a closer look to the Invisible Man by Leigh Wannell and starring Elizabeth Moss. The movie, which is actually an exquisite re-invention of classic Universal monster into a more modern setting that transforms it into a thrilling metaphor for home abuse, was released into theatres right before the pandemic. It spent some weeks in the theatres, and it did actually quite well, but then of course all theatres were closed alongside all the non-essential business. Thus, the movie was moved to an exclusive early access on streaming for $20.
This literally divided the fans, and it is quite easy to see why. If you were planning to watch the movie by yourself, then $20 might be a little too much for just a screening. On the other hand, if you have a household of 4/5 people and you want to watch the movie, there it is your catch. However, at first this was regarded as sort of an unusual move, and the fact that many releases of big-budget production were postponed due to the closing of theatres would seem to suggest that this method was not actually viable.
Nonetheless, now even Disney – the true juggernaut of Cinema – is considering release some of their productions into their newest streaming platform, Disney +. Thus, if the Big Mouse starts to do it, and considering the relative weight and controls that it has over the industry, things might really take a turn.
Personally, I have never been a real fan of movie theatres. Most times, it is just a pretty frustrating experience because not all movie audiences watch movies in the same way. Of course, there are sometimes when actually a movie has been enhanced by me watching it in theatres (I will always have Dunkirk) but the cons overweight the pros. Thus, if there were a movie that I just had to watch before it comes out regularly, I would not mind spending $20 to have the experience and maybe make a night out of it with some friends (granted, after the end of the quarantine!).
Unfortunately, it is hard to quantify now if this move to the streaming release is fruitful for the studios.
Indeed, they do not have to release the box office numbers as they usually would, which can be a nice double-edged sword in order to prevent the movie that flops from making a big mediatic resonance, while also not giving the chance to push your big hitters. Also, in order to see whether this system works we have to wait for some major production to land on streaming. However, given the rumors that movie theaters will likely remain close all the way until the November as a precaution for the virus, and the fact that the big movies that were initially postponed cannot sit on shelves for that long, we might gather the evidence soon.
That will be the crossroad for the fate of movie theatres. If the revenue appears to be greater with the release in pay-per-view, then given how rootless the cinema industry really is the studios will probably kiss theatres goodbye. Instead, if the profit is not actually that great, we will probably be sold some spiel on how the studios want to protect the movie-going experience and they will fight in order to maintain that balance. All in all, in the coming years everything, from the geopolitical order to even movie theatres will change, and for us that represent the generations who will have to deal with this new global order, it will be one hell of a show.
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