Movie theaters have been the primary form of film exhibition since the dawn of cinema, but this past decade has seen massive threats posed to the industry. Streaming services and the end of the “golden age of television” have greatly expanded what is available for consumers to watch at home. A vast amount of successful and creative television (TV) shows have found their home and cult-following on Netflix and other platforms, with the science fiction hit “Stranger Things” being a prime example. But recently, films have begun to make this digital leap as well.
One of the most surprising examples of this was acclaimed director Martin Scorcese’s 2019 film “The Irishman,” which was released on Netflix. The elite director has been vocal in the past on his appreciation for the movie theater and recently referred to the Marvel blockbusters, which have been stuffing theaters in recent years, as not being true cinema. So, the decision that Scorsese made to release his latest feature film primarily on a digital on-demand platform certainly makes a statement as to the future of the film industry.
However, the Oscars were still requiring films to have had a theatrical release to be considered for the Academy Awards. This has led to the limited screening periods of “The Irishman” and similar past critical classics, such as 2018’s “Roma.” However, this has now changed. The Academy has officially ruled that streaming-only films will be allowed to be submitted for consideration for the 93rd Academy Awards next year. It’s unclear whether this decision will stick for future years, but the precedent has now been set.
It’s unclear whether this decision will stick for future years, but the precedent has now been set.
The reason for The Academy’s decision is largely due to the most existential threat facing movie theaters: COVID-19. With all US theaters closing on March 16 to comply with social distancing guidelines, two of the largest film markets in the world, New York City and Los Angeles, are shutting down. Although California has gradually begun to reopen theaters, New York has not budged, which has been genuinely frightening for theater company chief executive officers (CEOs).
The beginning of theater reopenings saw “Tenet” by director Christopher Nolan, who has stressed the need for supporting movie theaters, as the major release. However, the domestic box office reports for this film release were highly disappointing, which seems to have made movie studios even more trepidatious to put out releases.
Just recently, the release of the new James Bond film “No Time to Die” was pushed back to the spring of 2021, and it’s not alone in this decision. Other blockbusters, including “Black Widow” and “Dune” have been pushed back to 2021. Other theater-bound films were instead placed exclusively on streaming platforms, including Disney’s live action “Mulan,” which was released on Disney+.
Theater CEOs were relying on these few blockbusters to give theaters an economic lifeline during the pandemic, but now the situation is dire.
Theater CEOs were relying on these few blockbusters to give theaters an economic lifeline during the pandemic, but now the situation is dire. Cineworld recently announced it will once again be closing its doors including all 536 Regal Locations in the U.S. and this time it may be for good. AMC has yet to follow suit, but its stock continues to drop at a similar rate.
Theaters are now at a crisis level and it’s unclear how long it will be until theater attendance can return in full safety. Although most filmgoers, cinephiles and directors would be sad to see theaters go, an economic recovery seems unlikely for the exhibition industry, unless studios decide to take serious risks and release their movies ahead of their delayed schedule to reopen more theaters to central markets. The next few months will prove to be very important is assessing what will be the ultimate fate of the movie theater.
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