What’s Up With Movie Theaters?
Reading Time: 4 minutes
With all the hectic events in the world right now, one thing has been constant in our quarantine lives: binge-watching. All the extra time on our hands has led us to turn to shows and movies from streaming services like Netflix or Disney+. And in this time of uncertainty and rapid content consumption, how will this affect the future of the film industry?
COVID-19 has forced movie theaters to close, affecting over 70 movie releases (some being delayed as late as 2021 such as “The Batman” or “In The Heights”). Some films have favored an approach bypassing the theater release issue completely, utilizing ever-popular streaming services. Movies like “Capone,” “The Lovebirds,” and “SCOOB!” were digitally released on their originally scheduled date, as was “Trolls World Tour,” its release breaking records solely through streaming and on-demand services.
Shocking as it is, the release of “Trolls World Tour” has been significant for its commercial success. In its first three weeks, it made almost $100 million. For reference, the first “Trolls” (2016) film made about $153.7 million at the domestic box office.
For movie theaters, this could be bad news. Why should companies bother releasing their films to theaters if they could make the same amount of money from people watching it at home? Simple: they want to win an Oscar, and they need it released in theaters for it to be eligible… right?
Wrong! Due to the pandemic, the Oscars have agreed to drop its requirement for films to have been released in a Los Angeles County commercial theater for at least a week. Films are still required to have a theatrical release planned, but that begs the question: if the movie theater requirement can be dropped as long as the film was intended to be released in theaters, what would stop them from potentially getting rid of it entirely?
Apart the Oscars being a traditional and therefore pro-theaters organization, there seem to be few concrete reasons for keeping the requirement. “The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater,” explained CEO Dawn Hudson and Academy President David Rubin in a joint statement. While few movie-watching experiences can beat the theater, the requirement is arbitrary and could hardly be a reason for exclusion from an award.
Here’s where things get tricky: are movie theaters worth keeping around just for the experience? Personally, I love going to the movies. I love getting dragged by my Tom-Holland-obsessed friend to watch the new “Spider-Man” film (regardless of my opinion on it). I love the giant tubs of popcorn, the overpriced soft drinks, all of it. I would be sad if the movie theater business went extinct in my lifetime. I just don’t think it should be our primary source of movie-watching anymore.
Think about it this way: our new favorite movie, “Trolls World Tour,” costs around $20 to rent. In New York City, a movie ticket for an adult will cost a minimum of $7.50 and a maximum of $17.49. If you wanted to take two friends to see “Trolls World Tour,” you would spend between $22.50 and $52.47, and that’s before the cost of tax and concessions. So why should anyone pay to see a movie in theaters when it would cost less to stay home?
The reason could be that people just don’t like to see things change. Or maybe your grandma will have trouble figuring out how to use “the Netflix” in order to watch a movie. But theaters cannot rely on the general public’s love for consistency or lack of ability to use technology to save them.
On the other hand, the simple title of “top box office film” is highly sought-after, which can only be achieved through a theater release. “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) is one example, in which different film versions were released more than once to theaters in an attempt to break the record of top box office film of all time. Though this may be an outlier, it might be something for companies to consider when deciding where to release their films. Sure, plenty of money can still be made when movies are available at home instead of on the big screen, but is it “top box office movie of all time”-level money?
This adds a new issue to the mix: if a release to theaters and a release directly to on-demand services each has its benefits, why not do both? That would be a good idea for companies; it could allow a family to save on theater tickets by staying home while qualifying the film for awards. Unfortunately, some theater chains, such as AMC, have put a stop to that. After NBCUniversal’s CEO Jeff Shell expressed interest in both theatrical and digital releases, AMC announced its ban on all films by Universal Studios. If companies are forced to choose between releases to streaming services and releases to theaters, they may have to choose the former, seeing as it offers more advantages than the latter.
As much as we would all hate to watch our local theater go out of business because it is not as convenient or affordable as pay-per-view services, it seems to be the only logical result with all factors considered. I do hope movie theaters manage to hang on for a while, so we can all sit down to a nice film and some popcorn once it’s safe to gather in large groups again. In the meantime, grab some snacks, gather your family, and do the same at home. Maybe you’ll want to watch “Trolls World Tour,” just to see what all the fuss is about.