As Movie Theaters Reopen, What’s Next?

By Gilbert Galvan  | 

After an uncertain and turbulent year for film, there is optimism again. America is getting vaccinated and movie theaters are reopening. In the past year, we’ve seen TV and film shoots have to rethink safety protocols and endure major changes in production, and so it’s worth asking: what will movies (and moviegoing) look like in the coming year, and beyond?

As the world “opens back up,” we know that releases may look different. Movie theaters’ exclusive rights have changed, and the much-forecast “streaming wars” between emerging platforms ended up being moot, as almost every streaming entertainment provider saw massive growth in 2020. However, we have already received early signs that the moviegoing public is hungry for an in-person experience, and the lineup this year is poised to receive a slate of delayed films — blockbusters pushed back from 2020, in some cases multiple times — to hopefully fortify the return of going to the movies.

There’s no doubt that 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated some existing trends in entertainment, notably that many viewers prefer to watch new movies at home. Netflix is excited about this trend, of course, and Warner Brothers surprised many viewers by announcing simultaneous in-home releases (all on HBO Max) of its biggest movies this year. There has typically been a 90-day window for theaters to have exclusive access to new releases, but in the time of Covid, those rules (and that exclusivity) changed.

There will now likely be, according to The Wrap, individual deals for individual releases, all based on the type of film and the studio. Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian told The Wrap that there’s a big difference between the “mid-budget comedy” and “a Jurassic World,” explaining that major tentpoles may still see wide releases, while more prestige films may find more success on the small screen, at home. Pixar earned Oscar nominations for two films in 2020 that had two in-home releases, Onward and Soul, and is preparing for 2021’s Luca to also skip theaters for a Disney+ debut.

Disney’s decision to give upcoming Marvel movie Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, a simultaneous Disney+ and in-cinemas release has irritated some cinema owners, especially because there is reason to believe that people are excited to return to the movies. One good sign is the pandemic’s first blockbuster, Godzilla vs. Kong, which set a pandemic box office record, grossing more than $48 million in its first weekend. Many see this as a positive omen, as it’s the first film to be released with a notable percent of the American population vaccinated. Now Hollywood will wait to see if this success is repeatable and sustainable.

The pandemic year generated a great deal of uncertainty in television programming, and the slate of delayed films from 2020 reveals a similar story. The good news is that the pent-up demand from the pandemic year and its lockdowns will be soothed with a lineup of potential blockbusters from 2020. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s filmed version of Broadway smash In the Heights promises to excite audiences, as does a thirty-years-in-the-making Top Gun Sequel, Top Gun: Maverick. One of the most notable film postponements, Daniel Craig’s final James Bond Film, No Time to Die, will finally be in front of eager audiences this October.

After a year of lockdowns and isolation, people are ready for, as Owen Gleiberman of Variety puts it, the “immersive nature” of in-person cinema. “This year of being away from that experience … has just fed my hunger to go back,” he writes. Hollywood is ready to deliver, from Ghostbusters to more Marvel movies, to Mission: Impossible and an anticipated Dune remake. This year’s slate of much-awaited franchise films could make AMC Theaters’ president’s prediction come true: people will return to movie theaters. What that looks like long-term is anyone’s guess, but we can be certain theatergoers will be happy for a return to the ritual of finding a seat, digging into a huge buttered popcorn and the thrill of the lights dimming before a much-awaited summer blockbuster.

Gilbert Galvan
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