Cinema's changing - in a good way
I think we're starting to figure out what the film world looks like post-COVID
As somebody who has worked in the world of film exhibition for almost thirteen years, it wasn’t hard to think the gig was up when, in March 2020, the theatrical industry ground to a halt due to the COVID pandemic.
I had been laid off from a job I loved, along with hundreds of thousands of other full-time and part-time movie theater employees across the world. Studios were breaking rules that had seemingly been set into law a long time ago: Thou shall wait months before releasing movies on physical media after their theatrical release; Thou shall not release a multimillion-dollar budgeted film on streaming at the same time as its theatrical release; Thou shall not sell a potential summer blockbuster to Netflix.
As I read trade article after trade article about the multiple release dates given to films as studios tried to figure out when, exactly, people would feel safe going back to the theater, it was hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom. Even after SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME was released in December 2021 and broke box office records - becoming the sixth highest-grossing film of all time - it still felt like a temporary reprieve from a foot that had been held tightly around the industry’s neck for the last two years.
But - over the last year - things have started to feel a little better. The doom and gloom has lifted and I am starting to feel more optimistic about the future of film exhibition. Don’t get me wrong - the world has irreparably changed when it comes to the movie industry. A genie has been let out of the bottle and there is no wishing it back into where it once belonged. Windows between theatrical and home video releases are shorter than ever and may only continue to shrink. Audiences have decreased and will continue to come to the theater in smaller numbers, as some groups start to figure out that they’re comfortable waiting to watch movies at home. Theaters across the country will continue to close as the big chains take some time to shrink their global footprint to match the new - more niche - hobby that going to see a movie in a theater has become.
So why do I feel optimistic? EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH. SKINAMARINK. PATHAAN. TOP GUN: MAVERICK. AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Movies are back, baby.
Over the last twelve months, we have seen a wave of films that have captured audiences’ attention and gotten asses in seats - even after the film has been made available to watch at home. EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE was released in theaters on March 25, on digital on June 7 and on home video on July 5. This past weekend it was re-released in 1,400 theaters and sold out shows across the country - driven by its historic eleven Academy Award nominations. This is a movie where people have a fight while wearing buttplugs shoved up their rectums. Movies are back, baby.
SKINAMARINK is an indie horror film made on a budget of approximately $15,000. I spent more making WHERE WOLF. Much more. After the film was leaked online and discovered by TikTok influencers, the movie was rescued from a straight-to-streaming release and grossed over $1.5 million in theaters. Movies are back, baby.
PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH was released over Chrismas and has either grown week-over-week at the box office (such as on the Martin Luther King weekend holiday) or had teeny tiny drops (11.1 percent this past weekend). It’s currently in its sixth week and is still reliably filling up theaters. Movies are back, baby.
Here’s the thing - people will go to the movies when you give them a movie they want see. People will go to the movies when you market a movie in a way that makes people want to go and see it (*cough* M3GAN *cough*). People will keep going to the theaters to see the movie despite being able to watch it at home when theaters provide a quality experience that removes distractions and delivers superb projection and sound. People will go back to the theater when going to the theater becomes an event.
The movie theater industry is going to shrink - and that’s OK. If you watch enough movies, you realize that it’s when a hero gets knocked off their pedestal and has to train until they’re back in a lean and mean fighting condition again - that’s when things get interesting. I sincerely believe that the studios are going to work with the theaters and continue to innovate and push each other to figure their shit out. The theatrical experience is going to become the way to watch event movies in the best way possible. Smaller titles will find success when they’re marketed properly - and that means thinking out of the box and utilizing the growing world of viral social media outreach, which sometimes means putting faith in your movie finding its right audience organically.
Here’s the thing - watching movies at home kinda sucks for most people. It doesn’t matter how big your television screen is or how many speakers you have - it’s next to impossible to lose yourself in a movie while sitting on a couch in your living room (or media center, you rich bastards). There are too many distractions at home and you never forget you’re watching a movie. For some people, that’s OK - movies are just a diversion, a way to pass the time. For the rest of us - the people who love the feeling of being transported into a different world and a different time and being fundamentally changed by a piece of art - theaters offer true escape.
For a few months in 2020, I thought I was never going to work for a movie theater again. For a few months in 2021, I thought I didn’t want to work for movie theaters anymore - unsure if the juice was worth the squeeze. In 2023, I can’t wait to continue to be a part of an industry on the verge of new and exciting change.
See you at the movies!