Will COVID Bring Down The Curtain On Movie Theaters?

Regal Cinema in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo taken 2019/Creative Commons)

By Kaden Quinn

In the absence of an audience due to COVID restrictions, the pandemic has forced many film companies to look towards streaming services as a valid way to bring their product to the public. This has caused commentators to speculate that the virus brought about a bad ending to an industry that arguably began with the showing of 1903’s The Great Train Robbery.

In the age of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, it has never been easier to have television and film beamed directly into a home or phone. Old and new content has been made available on these platforms with the bonus of exclusive content created directly for a specific service with prominent Hollywood directors like David Ayer (End of Watch), Spike Lee (BLACKkKLANSMAN), and Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver) attached to direct.

As the box office continues to be overtaken by big-budget blockbusters such as The Avengers franchise, Star Wars franchise, and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, the opportunity to create smaller and riskier films have been pursued by directors old and new alike. The presence of which adding a layer of legitimacy for viewers to consider as Scorsese’s The Irishman went on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.

As the coronavirus continues to force people to shelter at home, film studios and their parent companies have been searching for new ways to bring the movies to the public. While these services continue to grow in their popularity, the Disney Corporation and Time-Warner have also thrown their hats into the streaming game with Disney+ and HBOMax platforms. The latter announcing that they will be releasing Warner Bros’ entire 2021 film slate on the service at the same time the movies will running in domestic theaters. Titles will be available for audiences to enjoy for at least one month, leaving plenty of time for a user to view these films before they are removed.

Disney+ experimented with a similar model in early September 2020 with the release of the live-action version of Mulan, charging users $30 to users to view it. Online criticism from fans and subscribers alike stated the price to see the film was too steep. However, the company reported that this did not curtail their profit. When considering that HBOMax/ Warner will not be charging their subscribers to pay an extra price to watch their new films, the hesitancy that users would have had to engage with these titles will be absent.

While most of these platforms have been producing their own original high-budget films, this would be the first time that a streaming service would have a blockbuster film slate – originally set to release exclusively in theaters – available on their platform.
Since streaming began to gain popularity in the early 2010s, people began to speculate about the end of movie theaters as film-goers began to dwell on what they did not enjoy about the experience. Between increasingly higher ticket prices, expensive snacks, and rude behavior from other patrons, these establishments started to become less appealing as the years went on, especially compared to the comfort of one’s own home.

Now with services like HBOMax offering box office titles on their platform, it will be safe to assume competitors like Disney+, Netflix, and Hulu will be following suit. Leaving many who wish to abandon the traditional movie-going experience for something more personal. However, if audiences flock to streaming, some are wondering where that would leave the state of movie theaters moving forward.

Cinemas are certainly one of the American entertainment cornerstones negatively affected by the coronavirus. Establishments based entirely around gathering into one place to watch a movie have now had to halt or completely shut down their business to stop the spread of COVID. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the film industry seems to be turning its back on traditional movie theaters as it attempts to gain back profits through streaming.

While movie theaters have been struggling for quite some time (Variety recently reported a $905 million loss for AMC Theaters in November) these establishments have been looking for news to keep afloat. For example, in that same report, AMC Theaters is also planning on renting out their auditoriums for private screenings with a maximum of 20 occupants. However, just as a theater chain seems to be pulling itself out of trouble, another issue seems to rear its ugly head. For Warner to release its entire slate on HBOMax, this could also mean a great loss for theaters across the nation. Instead of going to the movies with their friends or renting out a theater, a person could simply invite all their friends to watch the films at home.

According to Fox Business, movie theaters have taken this personally and have since collaborated on the idea to slash ticket prices in retaliation against the HBOMax/ Warner deal. This would leave Warner with diminishing box office returns; however, if handled poorly, could also bring the end of theaters at a much faster pace.

It is hard to say what is going to happen next, but one could say we might be getting the best of both worlds. Yes, streaming new big-budget films does seem to be where things are headed, but it is also probable that renting out auditoriums might be as well. There will always be an audience for movie theaters. There is a special kind of communal experience that is almost irreplaceable. If a person likes to get outside and sit in a theater with their friends, family, and moviegoers alike, those people will find a way to continue doing so.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed so many of people’s day-to-day lives, that it has unfortunately reached and touched one of America’s oldest pastimes. Regardless, while this might mean movie theaters would be diminished in the near future, they will certainly never be gone.

About The Clarion News

Campus and community news produced by journalism students at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.
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