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. I missed having the theater where I and Everyone in the auditorium can watch a movie on the most giant 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?
I may be exaggerating, but I meant to say. I will always enjoy the movie-going experience. But, we have seen less attendance in movie theaters and more viewings at the comforts of our homes. And the CoVid-19 pandemic did not make movie theaters any easier.
Initially, I was going to ask myself, “Are movie theaters dying?” Many have already been asking themselves that question and trying 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?”
Movie theaters have been a dominant feature for visual media throughout the decades. They have given some memorable films that bring a group of people to pay for a ticket to go see some of the most popular movies 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 has dropped significantly. In 2017, films had a massive year at the box office, with nineteen grossing over $500 million worldwide. However, U.S. ticket sales for that year hit a 25-year low. How could fewer people be going to the movie theaters if a robust lineup of films has made huge money? One significant influence is the rising cost of tickets. Ticket sales usually depend on what theater you go to and/or what movie you plan on seeing. And since 1995, ticket prices have risen up 109% today. In this way, fewer ticket sales mean higher ticket prices (and vice versa).
Another significant influence on lower attendance is the type of movies people generally watch. I’m not just talking about a film’s genre or rating; people will go to the film as long as they all agree they watch them together. Families will bring their kids to see films appropriate for everyone (i.e., animation, Disney). A group of friends will want to go to the movies just to 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 film and which ones they will watch video on demand. And while many theaters seem to be more dependent on potential blockbusters, some will flop at the box office.
Then, the kind of movies that the industry will call gimmicks. It could be that you would have to pay extra for a ticket. For example, a 3-D film 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 scheme, i.e., films that were edited to look like it was done in one shot.
These factors hurt movie theaters and affect how we consume movies today. While people love to go see movies because everyone wants to know before anyone spoils it, there will also be people who will wait until a film becomes available after its theatrical window.
The Rise of Streaming:
Another significant influence on attendance dropping is the rise of streaming services. In the past decade, Netflix changed how we watch movies and TV shows from home. They offer some of the 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 significant 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 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 have researched what Netflix has done to provide their own streaming content (i.e., Disney+). As long as there are 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. The gap between when a movie is released in theaters and when the same film 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 fewer people will be going to the movies. Spending more time binge-watching our favorite TV shows and movies will have severe implications for movie theaters to generate revenue.
The Impact from CoVid-19 Pandemic:
I’ve already written 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 started to get creative with its releases after CoVid-19 shut down 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 movies for VOD rental… and one of them had not been released then. Many films have delayed or canceled 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 have a slow start, with Mulan (2020) becoming a flop in China and Tenet not grossing enough in North America.
Also, some critics refuse 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 movie safely, but this critic goes against everything Christopher Nolan and movie theaters stand for.
After the pandemic closed theaters worldwide, AMC Theatres, the largest movie theatre chain globally, is now on the cusp of filing for bankruptcy. After movie theaters were forced to close and furlough their employees, AMC’s 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 a big blow for movie theaters. AMC hopes that their new financial plan will help them stay afloat after reopening most of their theatres 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 significant 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 like 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!
In August, Disney announced in their Q3 financial results 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 in some countries, i.e., China, Disney decided to cancel the theatrical release in countries that have launched Disney+, with 60.5 million subscribers. Apparently, Disney claims that Mulan is “a one-off instead of 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 generally received positively from critics for being mature 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 unhappy with the character development and cultural portrayal.
Mulan was boycotted for the $30 premier access and Liu Yifei’s alleged support for police brutality in Hong Kong. I understand that there are issues with this movie, but I would not downgrade a film for any changes or controversies or Disney+. It has to do with my 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 massive impact on the film. But, we’ll get everything back to the way it was. Film productions have resumed, and theaters are reopened. But we understand that some 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 manage 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 through this.
Movie theaters are not dying. They are struggling to keep up with the evolving world.