Since the CoVid-19 pandemic swept the world and caused businesses to close, I have been patiently waiting for when things start to feel normal again. But, it is only a matter of time. And since the coronavirus forced movie theaters (other than drive-in theaters) to shut down, a part of my soul vanished from me. I missed having to go to the theater where me and everyone in the auditorium can watch a movie on the biggest screen possible, eating popcorn and candy… After months of waiting when it will happen, movie theaters have officially reopened in mid-August in time for new releases (i.e. TENET and the New Mutants), bringing that part of my soul back. However, I have started to see a problem with movie theaters before the pandemic.
Audiences stopped going to the movies!!! Why?
Okay that may be an exaggeration, but what I meant to say is that less people are going to the movie theaters. For me, I will always enjoy the experience of going to see a movie as much as anyone else who go to see those movies. But in the modern digital world, we have been seeing less attendance in movie theaters and more viewings at the comforts of our home. And the CoVid-19 pandemic did not make movie theaters any easier.
Originally, I was going to ask myself “Are movie theaters dying?” Many have already been asking themselves that question and try to come up with their own “yes or no” answer. And there are so many articles based on this theory. However, I realized that we have been asking ourselves the wrong question. You shouldn’t say something that could upset a person or a group of people. You should learn to discuss with one another about a topic before coming to a consensus. So instead, I will ask “Why have we stopped going to the movies?”
Throughout the decades, the movie theaters have been a dominant feature for visual media. They have given some memorable films that brings a group of people to pay for a ticket to go see some of the most popular films that everyone will want to see. However, since the invention of the television, audiences can enjoy watching something in their homes for the whole family. Then, there was the creation of the home media entertainment, where friends and family can watch their favorite movies at home. In the digital era, streaming services have become the new force to be reckoned with. I just basically covered the entire history of movie theaters in short form.
The first thing I’ve noticed about movie theaters today is that audience attendance have dropped significantly. In 2017, films had huge year at box office, with nineteen grossing over $500 million worldwide. However, U.S. ticket sales for that year hit a 25-year low. How could less people be going to the movie theaters if a major lineup of films have made huge amount of money. One major influence is the rising cost of tickets. Ticket sales usually depends on what theater you go to and/or what movie you plan on seeing. And since 1995, ticket prices have raised up 109% today. In this way, fewer ticket sales means higher ticket prices (and vice versa).
Another major influence on lower attendance is the type of movies people overall generally watch. I’m not just talking a film’s genre or a film’s rating; people will go to the movies as long as they all agree they watch them together. Families will bring their kids to go see films that is appropriate for everyone (i.e. animation, Disney). A group of friends will want to go to the movies just so they can hang out together. And then, there are the tent-pole films. Tent-poles are films with massive budgets being released, aka blockbusters. However, if there are multiple movies that you want to see in theaters, audiences will be picky about which ones they want to see in the movies and which ones they will watch video on demand. And while many theaters seem to be more dependent on potential blockbusters, there are some who will flop at the box office.
Then, there is the kind of movies that the industry will call them gimmicks. It could be that you would have to pay extra for a ticket. For example, 3-D movies lets you see a movie in a different perception. It became popular in the 1950s, 1980s, and 2010s before dying out. Other theater gimmicks include Dolby Cinemas, IMAX, and 4DX. Or, it could be a movie that uses a gimmick, i.e. films that were edited to look like it was done in one shot.
These factors not only hurts movie theaters, they also affect on how we consume movies today. While people love to go see movies because everyone wants to know before anyone spoils it before, there will also be people who will wait until a movie becomes available after its theatrical window.
The Rise of Streaming:
Another major influence on attendance dropping is the rise of streaming services. In the past decade, Netflix changed the way we watch movies and TV shows from home. Not only do they offer some of your favorites you love or want to watch, they also provide their own original content for millions of subscribers. The success of Netflix also comes with major influences: what movies we like to watch and how we consume them.
Seeing how successful Netflix has become was the start of the streaming wars. Tech companies like Amazon and Apple would go on to have their own streaming services but they frustrated many with Amazon’s interface and Apple’s content respectively. However, they do show us some promise. Entertainment industries have an easier time creating their own services, such as Hulu, HBO, NBC Universal, and Disney. While some are struggling to reach the peak, a few of them have researched what Netflix has done to provide with their own streaming content (i.e. Disney+). As long as there is streaming services, movie theaters must find a way to reach out to film industries about what content they should bring to the theaters.
A few moments ago, I mentioned the theatrical window. It is the gap between when a movie is released in theaters and when the same movie becomes available for home media. Back in the 80s, the theatrical window was 5-6 months. Today, that gap was cut to 2.5-3 months. With the theatrical window being shorter, audiences will be able to watch those movies on any device. But, it also means that less people will be going to the movies. Having to spend more time binge-watching our favorite TV shows and movies will have serious implications for movie theaters to generate revenue.
Impact from CoVid-19 Pandemic:
I’ve already wrote an in-depth review on how coronavirus changed the film industry. But, I would like to talk more about the impact CoVid-19 had on movie theaters.
In 2020, the film industry have started to get creative with their releases after CoVid-19 shutdown theaters. Both Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker were available Disney+ and VOD early. Onward was just released in theaters when the pandemic hit North America and became available on Disney+ one month after its theatrical release. Four feature films from Universal decided to release their films for VOD rental… and one of them had not been released then. Many films have been delaying or cancelling their theatrical releases in response to the pandemic.
Then in mid-August, movie theaters and chains (multiplexes) have reopened. But with the pandemic going on, many people aren’t going back to the theaters. Obviously, people don’t believe they are ready to go back to the theaters safely, despite the guidelines they implemented. One research says that 70% of moviegoers would rather watch movies from home. After one month of reopening, movie theaters are having a slow start, with Mulan (2020) becoming a flop in China and Tenet not grossing enough in North America.
Also, some critics are refusing to review theatrically released films because the companies would not do a socially distant screening or a digital release. One critic wrote that they refuse to review Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet because Warner Bros. would not release the film in digital format. I get that this critic wants to critique a film safely, but this critic goes against everything Christopher Nolan and movie theaters stand for.
After the pandemic closed theaters around the world, AMC Theatres, the largest movie theatre chain in the world, is now in the cusp of filing for bankruptcy. After movie theaters were forced to close and furlough their employees, AMC finances have been in debt for billions of dollars; the future of AMC Theatres is in “substantial doubt” for business to resume after CoVid-19. This is big blow for movie theaters. AMC hopes that their new financial plan will help them stay afloat after reopening most of their theatres back in mid-August.
But it only gets worse from here.
After the success of Trolls: World Tour, Universal announced that they will continue to simultaneously release movies in the theater and at home. This is a major blow for movie theaters! After this crushing blow to the head, both AMC and Regal Cinemas announced that they would no longer show films from Universal for their “unilateral actions and intentions” will “abandon current windowing practices”. This threat was also extended to other major studios such as Disney and Warner Bros. Then, after three months of negotiating, AMC and Universal made a multi-year deal for Universal to have a theatrical window for three weekends before releasing their content on PVOD.
But wait, there’s more!
Disney announced in their Q3 financial results in August that they are releasing Mulan (2020) on their streaming service, Disney+, for a premium fee of $29.99. While this live-action remake of the animated film will be released in theaters at some countries, i.e. China, Disney decided to cancel the theatrical release in countries that has launch Disney+, which as of publishing this has 60.5 million subscribers. Apparently, Disney claim that Mulan is “a one-off as opposed trying to say that there’s a new business windowing model.” Why? Why? Why, Disney? Why? Why would I pay $30 to watch Mulan on my computer or my TV screen than to watch it in the theater? Why would you do this to me? WHY?!?!?!
The live-action of Mulan has received generally positive from critics for being more like an action adventure rather than a musical. However, audiences who have seen this version have mixed reactions to the movie because it was inferior to the original animated film. Chinese audiences were also not happy with the remake due to character development (or lack of any) and how their cultural elements were treated.
Some have boycotted this movie not because of the changes or the $30 access, but for the controversy on Liu Yifei (Mulan) and her alleged support for police brutality in Hong Kong. Now, I do understand that there are some people who have issues with this movie, but I would not downgrade a movie for any changes or controversies or Disney+. It has to do with own opinion of what I see on the screen. I’m not boycotting this movie because of the noticeable changes or the $30 or the controversies surrounding the film. I choose not to watch it because now is not the right time to watch it.
There is no doubt that CoVid-19 has made a huge impact on film. But, we’ll get everything back to the way it was. Film productions have resumed and theaters are reopened. But when things go back to normal, how long before people go back to the theaters? And how many are willing to spend more time experiencing the sensation of watching a movie with everyone else and their popcorn, candy, and sticky floor? Answer: I don’t know.
Audiences are going to the movies less and less because of the opportunities to watch them whenever we want to. We have become picky over what movies we want to see and when we can watch them. Ticket prices will continue to rise, streaming services will continue to grow, but movie theaters will somehow survive because there will always be people who will enjoy the premium experience. However, there will always be people who will pay for the lowest income possible. CoVid-19 may have stopped movie theaters for a short time, but we will get though this.
Movie theaters are not dying. They are struggling to keep up with the evolving world.