Predicting the Future of Cinema

Throughout this pandemic have frequently heard the phrase “return to normal”, but with something which impacted the world at this level there is no going back to the original normal. I could go on about socio economic aspects and economic affairs, but I have not had enough beer to go on that tangent and frankly it would bore you all so much you would try to come through my computer and slap me right in my face. Instead, I am going to talk about how much how the movie industry has been forced to evolve and how cinema will probably look for the foreseeable future.

In the spring of 2020 a silly animated movie about trolls which Universal produced, seemingly became the long prophesied harbinger of doom for the traditional theater industry. When we were all naïve enough to thin we would just wait for this all to blow over, every major studio simply postponed all of their scheduled films for later in the year. But Universal was not about to deprive people of their troll film and opted to release it on demand right then and there. America’s largest theater chain AMC Theatres took this personally and declared they would never carry another Universal movie ever again. We shall see when the next installments of the Jurassic Park and Fast & Furious franchises roll out, just how dedicated they really are to this. If they actually go through with it, it could ensure a mutually ensured destruction situation for both parties. The theater needs people to see movies and buy concessions while Universal needs venues for people to pay and see their movies. But this where Warner Bros. seems to have found a new strategy in the streamosphere.

As expected with everyone serving long terms in the Office of Mayor of Their Couches, the number of subscribers to the 8,560,963 streaming service have shot through the roof. The Britbox pie-in-the-sky ultimate long-term goal of a million subscribers was obliterated faster than the TARDIS can materialize. The buzz around shows like Tiger King and The Queen’s Gambit solidified Netflix’s grasp on the medium they pioneered. Over at Disney +, the House of Mouse wielded their Hamilton and Baby Yoda weapons with great efficiency. Warner Bros. debuted their own service with HBO Max but for the longest time it failed to keep up with the industry big boys. This summer, while every other studio was holding off on their big tentpole films, Warner tested the waters by releasing their major production Tenet. This was a big budget, Christopher Nolan film which in previous years would have drowned in acclaim and box office dollars. But even the strength of the Dark Knight director could not save it, as on a $200 million budget it made about $300 million worldwide breaking even by means of the traditional “budget+half” method. So with their other big film Wonder Woman 84, the studio tried a new tactic. Of course they would release it to the smattering of theaters which were open, and the few people willing to risk a trip to the hospital for ventilator town could see it. Oh, who am I kidding the hospitals are too overcrowded and there are not enough ventilators to worry about that. In addition to said theaters, WW84 would be available to watch in your own home if you subscribed to HBO Max. No doubt they missed a good chunk of change from the box office, but they gained a new block of customers for another arm of the business. Plus with so many people trapped on Amazon currently, they no doubt saw a spike in purchases of Wonder Woman: toys, T-shirts, graphic novels, umbrellas, toasters, storm windows, coloring books etc. With some controversy, Warner has declared this will be their distribution method for all of this year.

In fact every major studio now owns their own streaming service and with everything which has happened in the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns this distribution method seems to be the wave of the future for them. I can not say this is a bad idea, as much of a cinephile as I am, I tend to avoid movie-tripping, as the kids call it (I think they do anyways I may have just made that phrase up). You mortgage your whole-ass house to purchase a ticket only to sit in a big room listening to teenagers chat, wannabe comedians doing bad MST3K impersonations, and seeing all of those distracting  little phone screen pop up in the darkness. I am fortunate enough to live in a city with both a kick-ass drive-in and a kick-ass indie theater, but if something is not showing at either of these venues I wait for it to hit Blu-Ray and in the process forget that it even existed. The numbers show I am not the only one who feels this way as many theater chains were having financial issues even before global bastard….I mean global health crisis became a thing. For so long this has been an industry which refused to, or simply did not know how to evolve, and now with a worldwide crisis hitting them square in the face and they are now being forced to scramble and figure out their next step while bringing in very little, if any, revenue in the process.

Releasing movies directly to streaming may look like the silver bullet for the big studios like Disney, Warner Bros., Universal etc. but these are uncharted waters and slip-ups are bound to happen. This past summer Disney released their latest soulless remake of an animated masterpiece with Mulan directly to Disney+…..behind a $30 pay wall. When people are asked to pay more money for something they are already paying for the masses tend to scoff at such a thing. This in addition to the film’s poor reviews made this flick dead on arrival failing to capture any buzz. You gotta respect Mickey and his corporate cronies for trying this strategy as releasing movies directly to streaming service means they potentially miss out on approximately 7 crap-ton of monies at the box office. Not only is this a blow to studios who are now regularly investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a single movie, but the A-list actors and directors who are contracted to get a kickback on the back end lose as well. Disney + already has 33.5 million subscribers, so that is 33.5 million less people who would spend $3,894 per movie ticket (or however much movies now cost).

In all of this what happens to the smaller studios like Lionsgate, A24, and others outside of the Big 6. With their productions having to be distributed through the digital world which they do not have the same resources to compete in what do they do? Most likely, they will have to turn to potential competitors to carry their films for them and hope to get the best deal. This kind of business environment could lead to some interesting partnerships and rivalries which could impact moviedom as a whole. This may be what they are forced to do as there is no way to predict what the fate of what traditional theaters will be. Financially AMC Theatres had the worst financial year in its century of existence losing over half of a billions dollars in expected revenue. Even with the vaccine rolling out it could be quite a while before people migrate en masse to see the latest blockbuster much less a low budget indie flick. Should AMC Theatres, the biggest theater chain in the world go under, that is countless communities around the globe which will simply no longer have a theater. In addition to this, if the largest of these businesses goes down it does not take a Wizard in the Sky to see that many of the other theater chains will also take a hit.

With the vaccine beginning to rollout people are about to be more willing to venture out into the outside world they remember from the Long Ago Time. This will be fantastic to the small businesses, which have suffered during this global bastard and I encourage each and every one of you to spend as much money as you can at the local businesses in your communities. Go to bars and book shops and video stores and comic shops and bomb shelter merchants and drop dough like a mad person. But as consumers of entertainment, we have spent what felt like 127 years being spoiled by the movie industry and things will not go back to normal as patrons will now expect a new level of accommodations from the business. Why should they go back to giving up their firstborn to purchase a ticket to sit on a ripped up chair in a sticky room which smells of old popcorn, when they had gotten used to pressing some buttons on their remote and smelling their own old popcorn on their own sticky floors? In the past several years we have seen the likes of Batman, Iron Man, Optimus Prime, and Elsa obliterating box office records which had stood for years or even decades. However, those days may be over, as studios will look to perhaps produce features on a smaller budget, which do not need the equivalent of the entire population of Germany to purchase tickets in order to turn a profit. I have the sneaking suspicion we may see a nice Renaissance of horror. Since the dawn of cinema this has been a genre that has traditionally been low on costs but high on profit. But for those who do not like scary movies I am sure we will see an explosion of comedies, dramas, and probably crime flicks as well. I must assure you I do not have a crystal ball or magic beans or anything else wich could foretell this, I am just a bespectacled “goofball” as my wife lovingly calls me, but I am a bespectacled goofball who loves movies and is fascinated by watching how the film industry changes with the times.