Oh, what some of us would give for a tub of overpriced, buttery movie theater popcorn right now. But we may need to wait a bit before we can plunk down in a seat and await the start of those too-loud previews since theaters in several states remain closed. Instead, many of us have settled for movie nights on the couch or bed with a decidedly smaller laptop screen.
In the past year, we’ve changed not only where but how we’re watching movies. Whether we streamed movies at home, headed to a drive-in for a different type of viewing experience or skipped the flicks altogether and binge-watched TV shows, the habits we developed during the pandemic could result in some major changes for the movie industry. (The movie popcorn, fingers crossed, will hopefully be just as delicious once we return to theaters.)
Pre-pandemic problems. Even before 2020, the movie industry was grappling with how to lure people off their couches and to the theater. “If you look at admissions at movie theaters, [they've] been flat to declining over the past decade,” John Horn, who covers the entertainment industry for Southern California Public Radio, told NPR last December. He also added that the pandemic exposed “a fundamental weakness” – that theaters haven’t changed their business in a century.
The pandemic, however, delivered a major, shall we say, plot twist: How could the industry distribute films when theaters were closed or Americans were reluctant to sit in a theater for a couple hours? In response, certain studios opted to press ‘pause’ on some movies – like No Time to Die, the latest in the James Bond franchise – and delayed release dates until 2021 in hopes the industry might be revived by then. Meanwhile, other movies – including Wonder Woman 1984 – were released in theaters as planned but also came out on streaming services the same day.
More changes on the way. Get the remote ready! Some studios already unveiled their plans for 2021, which include making many movies available on streaming platforms the same day they arrive in theaters. That decision is “seismic” for the industry, Deadline reported In fact, distributing movies in theaters may no longer be the predominant way that studios release flicks in the future, Quartz noted. “Figuring out what releases should go on which platforms is one of the biggest challenges facing Hollywood.”
Among the other possible shake-ups to this industry? Though there is debate about what theaters could look like in the next couple decades, it’s clear that they’ll change, Quartz predicted, and the experience could feel “more like theme parks.” And with the price of a movie ticket (more than $12 on average as of 2020) about the same as one month of a streaming service, the movie-going experience may need to be rethought. “Going to the movies can’t only be a negative decision, a choice not to stay home and stream,” said A.O. Scott, a film critic for The New York Times. Finally, there may be an opportunity for the industry to come back even better than before, Wired mused, with movie offerings that are “more inclusive for the dazzling spectrum of film enthusiasts.”
Will 2021 see a movie revival? Of course, there still are some major hurdles to overcome. Deadline reported in December 2020 that 60% of U.S. and Canadian theaters were closed. As a result of the “ongoing demand weakness and film supply uncertainty,” Goldman Sachs analysts lowered their forecast for domestic box office sales for 2021 in December.
But like any good cliffhanger, there’s a good reason to keep watching this movie. Despite the uncertainty, Goldman Sachs analysts say the box office is “poised for a sharp recovery” in the second half of 2021 thanks to several potential blockbuster movies scheduled for release later in the year.
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