This time last year, one of the most anticipated films of 2019 had just been released and was already on its way to becoming the most successful movie of all time. That film was of course Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the culmination of its Infinity Saga story line.
It’s funny how much the entertainment landscape has changed since then, with everybody currently being asked to remain in their homes due to the coronavirus, and movie theaters being forced to shutdown for providing non-essential services. Streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ are the new go-to destinations for our movie watching needs, and straight-to-streaming releases like Extraction (which drops later today on Netflix), are the new event movies.
And with upcoming films like Scoob! and Artemis Fowl already planning to forgo a theatrical release in favor of video-on-demand (VOD) and streaming, the future is not exactly looking bright for the movie theaters. One of the largest theater chains in the world, AMC, is in fact presently on the verge of going into bankruptcy, as it continues to lose money each day it is forced to keep its doors closed to the moviegoing public.
This is mainly due to the fact that movie theaters are a low profit margin business, and they make very little money off the movies they show. Instead, they rely on selling (overpriced) concessions like popcorn and drinks, along with movie tickets, as well as advertising, to turn a profit. And the sad truth is that a company like AMC, which had already incurred a lot of debt while revamping its theaters prior to the lockdown, might be unable to reopen for business even after it becomes safe to do so.
But what would that mean for the future of the movie industry? Without any theaters to show their movies, would movie studios have no choice but to release their movies straight to streaming and VOD? Well, the reality is most movies make a small fraction of what they make in theaters on those other platforms.
This is why most movie studios are opting to push back their tentpole releases to future release dates, rather than put them on those platforms today. Their movies simply would not make enough money to turn a profit, especially on big productions like Black Widow and Wonder Woman 1984, which often cost upwards of $200 million to produce, and need to make twice that just to break even.
So while it might seem logical from a consumer standpoint for these movies to be released on streaming and VOD, it simply would not make much business sense. But business sense aside, there is something to be said about the overall moviegoing experience itself.
Going back to Avengers: Endgame, I’d been one of those who was lucky enough to secure tickets for an advance screening the day before the movie’s official release date. There were several back-to-back showings of the movie that night, all of which were sold out. I vividly remember the sense of excitement as we all filed into our designated hall, and the excited chatter as we sat through over half an hour of trailers and ads.
The movie began eventually, and I still remember watching events unfold on that big screen, and getting lost in its narrative. But even more than that, there was a palpable sense of belonging between all of us watching the movie that day, a connective tissue joining all of us as we all gasped, laughed and cheered at the same time.
And speaking of cheering, nothing still beats the sheer exhilaration we’d felt while watching the climactic portals scene, and being part of a large crowd that collectively lost its mind, a moment I would later learn was shared by people in thousands of theaters all over the world, across multiple viewings and different showtimes. I’ve seen that scene at least twice on VOD now. And while I still get goosebumps watching it, most of that is due to the memory of that first time.
And of course the theater reaction to PORTALS was bonkers. pic.twitter.com/tllxg9aqMG— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) April 7, 2020
This is why I feel movie theaters would always have a place in the entertainment landscape. Because they are a vital part of the overall film watching experience, providing moviegoers with a venue to share their love of movies with a room full of complete strangers. So here’s hoping that film fans would still be able to congregate in those theaters, after the dust settles and social distancing becomes a thing of the past.
But those are just my thoughts. What do you think the future of movies and moviegoing would look like? Is streaming and VOD going to take the place of cinemas? Let us know in the comments section below.