Entertainment Choices Expand And Contract During COVID Restrictions
• So far big expensive movies are money losers in the era of COVID, streaming and video games.
The movie-watching experience is dramatically changing. What was once a full experience, with plush theater seats and popcorn, is now a simple task, with the click of a button and a device displaying a plethora of options to watch movies at any given time.
Streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and Disney+, are creating a much easier way for people to watch movies from the comfort of their own homes.
This, along with the detrimental effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the movie theaters, has raised a lot of concern regarding the survival of movie theaters.
Though some long-awaited films have been postponed in hopes of restrictions loosening enough to premiere the traditional way, others have adapted to the situation, taking advantage of the streaming services to allow people to continue to view new films safely at home.
With that, though, comes a huge financial loss for movie makers, as well as the loss of the full movie-going experience for audiences, because watching a film at home is nowhere near the same as seeing a movie for the first time on the big screen.
There is a mixed response to how the film industry has adapted to current times, and though the experience of watching a movie in the theater is unmatched, filmmakers are doing what they can, trying to stay afloat to keep the film industry alive.
As COVID-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted around the globe, many question whether the use of theaters will fully resume post-pandemic, or if this marks the end of cinemas for good.
During 2020, many long-anticipated movies were postponed, as filmmakers were still confident that theaters would be operational soon enough.
Among the postponed were “Dune”, “The French Dispatch”, “Wonder Woman 1984”, “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Black Widow”.
Some movies, such as “Dune,” by director Denis Villeneuve, and “The French Dispatch,” by director Wes Anderson, are still holding out hope for a full theater release, with Villeneuve’s film’s newest release date being Oct. 1 of this year and Anderson’s modified date still unknown.
However, many movies have taken an alternative route–to premiere in the few open theaters available and on streaming platforms simultaneously.
“Wonder Woman 1984,” directed by Patty Jenkins, was released in the U.S. on Dec. 25, 2020, both in theaters and on the streaming platform HBO Max. This movie did not do as well as people hoped.
Production costs were more than $200 million, but it grossed only $38.5 million during its opening weekend nationally. However, it did fairly well, given the circumstances, because the HBO Max subscriptions rose by approximately 554,000 in the weekend following the film’s release.
Part of this movie’s lack of success was simply due to the writing and production itself, as many felt it was much weaker than its predecessor, “Wonder Woman” (which was released in 2017). Especially considering how much worse COVID-19 restrictions were back in December, this one movie does not represent the decline of the film industry for good, and it does not represent a failure in regards to releasing films on streaming platforms.
This dual-release approach has actually proven to be quite successful with the more recent film “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which premiered in the U.S. on March 31, also simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.
Despite most areas still implementing restrictions due to COVID-19, many cinemas have reopened at limited capacity, leading to a slight increase in people viewing this movie in a theater.
The box office total was $48.1 million in the first five days of opening, and HBO Max revealed that the movie received its greatest viewing audience to date. The movie has now earned more than $300 million globally, and there is still time to gross more in the weeks to come. Despite this evident success, those who opted for the at-home option seem to be at a disadvantage, lacking the same immersive experience that movie theaters provide.
“Both “Wonder Woman” and “Godzilla vs. Kong” were made for the theater experience, with the surround sound system, a big projected picture and the completely dark room,” said Peninsula High School senior Francesca Genato.
“Although I still loved watching both movies from home, [I recognize that] the movie theater experience is irreplaceable, and though [streaming platforms] are super convenient, I would choose experience over convenience anytime,” Genato said
“It is great that the option to safely watch movies during the pandemic has been provided, but after COVID-19 is over, we absolutely should go back to viewing movies in the theater, as movies are intended to be watched [on the big screen],” she said.
Most recently, Marvel’s new film “Black Widow”, which was first announced to be released in May of 2020, has now been postponed for the third time, with its newest release date being July 9.
Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have been requesting this film since the character Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), played by actress Scarlett Johansson, first appeared in “Iron Man 2” back in 2010.
The first teaser trailer was released on Dec. 3, 2019, and since then fans have been anticipating its release.
In the past, Marvel has had no problem making profit off of their films, with their 2019 film “Avengers: game” grossing $2.798 billion globally.
Additionally, the Disney-owned company has been extremely prosperous during this pandemic, releasing television series “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” so far in 2021, with more to come.
Both were released solely on the streaming platform Disney+, yet they were incredibly successful, with “WandaVision” becoming one of the 10 most-watched original shows on streaming platforms during its debut week (Variety).
With the use of Disney+ working very well thus far, Marvel announced that “Black Widow” will be released both in theaters and on Disney+. However, there is a catch–the film will be part of Disney+’s “Premier Access” release, meaning it will cost $29.99 on top of the monthly subscription. The expense is making this film even more of a risk to the movie’s success, because its viewership may be much lower as people do not want to pay $29.99 for a single film.
Nevertheless, a new report from Observer states that this movie is expected to gross about $170 million, mainly due to the decision to push back its release to July.
It is still unclear whether all movie theaters will be open by then, and even if they are, how many people will be allowed inside. Additionally, COVID-19 is by no means gone, and many are concerned about their safety in theaters. Despite this, there is talk of capacity restrictions being lifted for most movie theaters, and with 211 million COVID-19 vaccines having been administered as of April 20 in the U.S., there seems to be hope of a safe theater experience by the summer months.
Peninsula High School junior Issa Ahmed is one of the people who feels uncertain about how this movie is being released.
“I think it is good that they are giving the option to watch “Black Widow” on Disney+, but it should be at most $20 to make it more affordable for everyone who wants to watch it on opening night,” Ahmed said.
“[Additionally,] they should not really be showing movies in theaters during a pandemic unless extreme precautions are taken, and I do not think people will truly enforce being spaced out. I have concerns about how well this movie is going to do, given COVID-19 is still a large issue that does not seem to be getting better fast enough for it to be safe by July,” she said.
As these big-budget movies, and countless independent films, have been forced to be released on streaming platforms for the sake of viewers’ safety, many movie-goers are beginning to worry about whether the theaters will recover from this pandemic at all.
Countless theaters have been shutting down in the past year, including numerous AMC and Regal theaters nationwide.
The Cinerama Dome in Hollywood announced its permanent closure on April 13, which shocked the film community. The theater has been a Hollywood staple since 1963 and has been the location of countless movie premieres over the years.
What was once one of America’s highest-grossing theaters (Deadline) is now just another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic and reveals a shift in how people view films.
When theaters do get the opportunity to open, the question remains: will people return to the “old-fashioned way” once again, reviving the remaining cinemas, or will streaming platforms become the ideal option, as many have grown accustomed to easy-access material with the click of a button?
If the latter proves to be true, the film industry has a huge shift to make, catering their films to smaller, less-sophisticated screens and adjusting their production budgets to increase their chance of making a profit.
Movie theaters may become obsolete, and though many in the film community are adamantly against this shift to digital streaming, it seems there is no stopping this change.
“On one hand, it is great that the film industry has found a way to stay afloat during the pandemic,” said Avery Simonian, a senior at Palos Verdes High School.
“[However,] there is something about being in a dark theater with the big screen in front of you that completely immerses you into the film, and that immersion is not there when watching a movie at home,” she said.
“[Regardless,] streaming services have taken over because cinemas are going out of business, and it appears as though these services are going to be the future of the entertainment industry, whether we like it or not,” Simonian said.