As North American movie theatres have continued to close indefinitely over the past three weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film industry has been forced to adapt their strategies to better suit the self-isolating population. Traditionally, the Spring season is a period of blockbuster releases, and this year was supposed to be no different. Mulan, Marvel’s Black Widow, and the new James Bond film, No Time to Die are just a few of the flicks that have been postponed because of the current situation. As well, current movie and TV productions have been forced to shut down, and numerous international film festivals (including the distinguished Cannes Film Festival) have either been cancelled or delayed. Obviously, this is a catastrophic event for the industry with little precedence, and studios are still scrambling in an attempt to diversify their revenue streams and reach consumers.
While some studios have opted to push back the release dates of their movies as mentioned above, others have decided to release them immediately for at-home streaming on the same day they were supposed to hit theatres. While this is an effective alternative for the short-term, I’m pretty worried about the potential repercussions this might have for cinemas, especially if the public gets accustomed to watching new releases in the comfort of their own home. Disney, Paramount Pictures, and Universal Studios all adapted this concept, either by releasing movies on digital earlier than expected or outright making them direct-to-digital movies with no theatre presence. Frozen II, The Rise of Skywalker, Bloodshot, The Hunt, and The Invisible Man were all made available to stream weeks or even months in advance, and it is yet to be determined how this will financially affect the studios that produced them. The increasing popularity of services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video prove that most people would rather consume their media from home, and there would be little incentive for people to travel to a local movie theatre if they could access that same feature from their couch.
Unfortunately, this situation reminds me of Blockbuster’s downfall as a result of Netflix’s success, and I’m afraid of the fact that theatres may share the same fate as everyone’s favourite video rental store. While many people (rightfully) have issues with the extortionate cost of tickets and concessions at cinemas, the big screen format of theatres is still the best way to experience the vast majority of movies for the first time. Witnessing the bright flames in 1917 or the moving buildings in Inception at home instead of on an IMAX screen just wouldn’t be the same, and if movie studios find that immediate home distribution of new movies is more lucrative than the current model, the theatre experience could soon become a thing of the past. As well, the number of jobs that could be lost in favour of digital streaming is worrying in itself. The warm, overpriced buttery popcorn, loud trailers, and accompanying friends and family have contributed to some of my favourite memories from the past, and it would be a shame to lose that. While I initially scoffed at the idea of theatres dying out, I remembered that I had the exact same reaction around the time Netflix and other video streaming services became popular. To this day, I still miss Blockbuster despite the fact that streaming is much more convenient, and I sincerely hope that a night out at the movie theatre is something that I can continue to do for years to come.