It seems as if the whole country is shutting down amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Even Hollywood is being affected by the virus as movie theaters close and some studios make plans to move to streaming services, but what does that mean for the future of movie theaters?
Delayed, Postponed, or Moved to Streaming
On Monday, the White House suggested limiting gatherings to 10 people or less to slow the spread of COVID-19. Schools, businesses, airlines, and movie theaters are closing their doors in compliance. Universal Studios is the first studio to move major theatrical releases like Emma, Invisible Man, and Trolls World Tour to streaming by Friday, March 20. Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, said that, instead of delaying releases, they wanted to “provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable.”
Emma’s director Autumn de Wilde posted on Instagram, stating that “I really hope we can all go back to work soon as so many brilliant hard-working folk in the industry and outside the entertainment industry can’t survive long without a paycheck. Until then, I hope EMMA. will give you a chance to escape with your imagination and heart while you (please) stay safely indoors.”
Universal is proposing offering these films for a 48 hour rental period at $19.99 per film. That’s a bit steeper than a movie ticket, but under current circumstances, this is how businesses are trying to stay afloat. Movie tickets are what fuel the most income for a film.
Universal’s decision is in contrast to most studios that have delayed releases and production on movies such as Jurassic World: Dominion, The Batman, Fantastic Beasts 3, and Mission: Impossible 7.
Box Office Drop
Unfortunately, theater attendance will continue to drop in the coming weeks. This weekend’s box office was at the lowest in 20 years since September 2000. It only grossed about 54 million in contrast to last weekend which was about 100 million. That’s an almost 50% reduction. Major theater chain AMC plans to close for up to 12 weeks due to the virus, which is going to significantly impact sales.
This weekend’s box office was at the lowest in 20 years since September 2000.
With people staying away from social gatherings, pushing films to streaming is the logical option in order to keep income up. Universal is smart for being the first to offer this. The only question is, will people go for it? And will it be enough?
The End of Movie Theaters?
It may be that some theaters never reopen because of a lack of sales. Just like any other business, they need income to survive. With everyone staying home, how can they do that? Americans have slowly been moving towards streaming platforms rather than movie theaters with options like Netflix, Amazon Prime Studios, Hulu, and Disney+; there’s no reason to leave the comfort of your home.
The problem, though, is that wasn’t the original intent. Movies were always meant to be a social experience, but over time (and adding more screens per household) it has become more isolating. Right now, this is a good thing as we try to limit the outbreak, but is it a trend we want to continue in the future?
Seeing a movie together in the theater was a shared experience that didn’t have just entertainment value, but social value.
The community experience of seeing a movie together in the theater is its own kind of magic. Last week (before the guidelines came out), I went to see Emma in the theater. The experience of laughing together with others was a joyous experience as we all appreciated the same moments. After the film, we discussed what we loved about it, reminiscing about the sumptuous colors compared to the gray world outside. We didn’t just consume entertainment, we savored and digested it. It was a shared experience that didn’t have just entertainment value, but social value. Life is better together.
So, while we deal with COVID-19, let’s not forget that after it’s all over to go out and support local businesses like restaurants, boutiques, and movie theaters, in person. While you are stuck inside, enjoy the time with your family and call your friends, because life needs to be a shared experience. And you can still support businesses by shopping online or streaming a movie or two until better days come back.