Movie theaters are currently experiencing a grueling face-lift, and it seems the two reasons would be COVID-19 and “Trolls World Tour.” If a Justin Timberlake animated film musical is a catalyst for change within a multi-billion dollar industry, we are truly living in the end times.
For months, theaters have been closed. Movie studios have shifted their release dates from the summer to later in the year or even into 2021. (The one exception to that would be Christopher Nolan’s Warner Bros. tentpole “Tenet,” which is maintaining its July 17 release date, as of April 29.) Studios have turned to releasing films as Premium Video-On-Demand (PVOD) options for $19.99. Some of these films include “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt” and “Birds of Prey.” However, Universal Studios made the decision to release “Trolls World Tour” on PVOD only, skipping releasing the film in movie theaters entirely.
As studios have been altering their plans, movie theater chains have a more uncertain fate. The biggest theater chain in the U.S.—AMC Theaters—is on the verge of bankruptcy. Other theaters are suffering similar issues due to a lack of attendance. As weeks pass with no patrons, theaters are digging their financial hole deeper and deeper. However, movie studios themselves rely on theaters to sell their products. The alterations in releases could be a way for studios to prepare for what could be an eventual shutdown of theater chains.
Yet, on April 28, three events shook the foundation of the movie industry as we know it. The first is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced they would allow films that premiere via streaming platforms to be considered for the 2021 Oscars, rather than only considering films that are first premiered in theaters. The second is that the Wall Street Journal reported “Trolls World Tour” made $100 million dollars in its rental fees. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell saw this as a victory, saying that “as soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” The third earth-shaking event is that AMC Theaters announced they will no longer show Universal movies in their theaters around the globe. This is bad news for the “F9” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru” fans out there.
With the idea that one of the biggest studios is barred from showing their films in theaters, the biggest loser would be the consumer. Movie theaters are fighting for their lives, and with studios stating that they will simply move their films to streaming, the only real strategy would be to retaliate. But, even when theaters reopen, there is a tremendous possibility that people will not immediately show up. In a post-quarantine world, people will be concerned about cleanliness and health like never before. When someone coughs in a dark movie theater, we will definitely react differently than we would have in January.
I never expected my last movie-going experience to be “Emma” at Brunswick’s Eveningstar. My friend and I decided to go to the Jane Austen trivia at Moderation Brewing with Visiting Assistant Professor of German Andrew Hamilton beforehand. The movie was fun and did what it was meant to do: tell a great story. But looking back, I yearn to sit in that old theater again and be engrossed for two hours. At home, movies are offered on all kinds of platforms, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the (underrated) Criterion Channel. The problem, however, comes with the fact that these movies are shown at home. People go to the theater to watch a movie specifically. At home, we watch a movie to pass the time.
The movie-going experience is dying. I would say go out and see a movie when you can, but who knows if you want to risk that. Movies have been a pillar of our entertainment system, along with going to concerts, theater performances, sports events and even eating out. But there is no telling what the future holds for each of these things.
I long to see a movie the way it was meant to be seen again, but everything is changing. We need to accept this reality and make the best of what we have, while appreciating what we once had.
Benjamin Allen is a member of the Class of 2023