Long Live Movie Theaters! (or not, thanks, COVID)

Movie theatres are dying. Or, at least, that would be the cynical way of looking at it. The theater-going experience was already ever-changing, long before COVID-19 struck the world. Superhero films reign superior. Sequels, reboots, remakes are the proverbial ruling class in Hollywood. They flood theatres year in and year out all while raking in the dough. This is how we've voted with our money. Hollywood is a business, much like anything else. They will create what sells, so long as this lucrative option is available. And we contribute to that. Whether unknowingly, or not. Enter: Streaming. (and COVID).

The Rise of Streaming Platforms As The New Industry Standard

Streaming has given film distribution companies the opportunity at making money when movie theatres are unavailable to them (or die out). Take Mulan (2020) for example. Disney's live-action remake was set to have a proper theatrical release before COVID struck. Now, they have their own streaming platform (Disney+) to be able to drop Mulan and charge their subscribers $29.99 in the US to stream it (in addition to the monthly subscription cost). With a whopping $200 million budget, will Mulan make its money back for Disney? This is a huge question; not just for Disney, but for film distributors everywhere.

Trolls: World Tour earlier this year showed that Premium Video On-Demand (PVOD) can be a useful alternative when a theatrical release is not possible, or feasible. Trolls: World Tour, by industry standards, was technically a bust. However, considering the pandemic ruining its chances at a proper theatrical release, it did make its budget back, and nearly doubled it. This may seem like a failure on the surface, but it did raise some eyebrows for the PVOD enthusiasts and skeptics alike. Mulan will serve as an interesting precedent, or guinea pig, depending on the outcome.

The eyes of the world are upon Mulan, or are they?

Disney's Live-Action Remake of 'Mulan' - The Most Expensive Night In Ever...

'Tenet' - In Theaters (Almost) Everywhere Now!

The Movie to Save Theaters (Or Die Trying)

This is where Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' comes in. Tenet was always going to be the summer blockbuster that everyone had looked to, when this summer was absent of the typical franchise tent-poles. Tenet is an interesting case as it's an original property, not based on existing IP. Christopher Nolan had been very vocal about Tenet being the film to reopen theaters after the Corona Crisis shut everything down worldwide. This came with a catch.

Just because theaters reopened after COVID cases went down, this did not necessarily mean that movie-goers would feel comfortable in a cinema during a global pandemic. In fact, just the opposite. Polls had shown that the vast majority of movie-goers would either wait for things to die down, or just avoid theaters entirely. So, this means that not only is Tenet losing money from the COVID crisis at large, it's also losing money because theaters will not be at full capacity, and even the most dedicated of fans are not likely to show up.

Is There Hope?

However, Tenet's global box office is actually showing relatively strong numbers. Especially considering how much the COVID crisis has impacted theater going and large gatherings in general. Tenet has shown impressive numbers overseas and domestically. Granted, Tenet must make at least $400 million just to break even, according to most industry experts. Recent numbers have shown that Tenet has crossed $100 million globally.

While this might seem like a massive box office dud, these numbers are not bad considering the unprecedented scenario it's up against. We can't help but wonder how it would be performing in a normal situation. So, this means that Tenet, while showing promising numbers, can't falter in the weeks to come if it hopes to recoup the seemingly insurmountable cost of production.

We're also only talking about the cost of production - this isn't even counting the monstrous cost of marketing the film. Something that was likely not considered was the fact that even if theaters do open back up to show Tenet, it's not realistic to say they will open up to full capacity - nor will people feel comfortable to share a room with other theater-goers amid a pandemic, regardless the expansive size of the room.

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in 'Tenet'

Are You Still With Me? You've Stuck With Me This Far, Might As Well Finish

So, at this point, you might be wondering: "What is the point of all this? Where is he going with this? Why should I care?"

I'll tell you. If we hope to save movie theaters, this is the time. We have to show that we still care about the movie-going experience. Yes, streaming is nice and convenient. Pretty much every movie you could want or think of at the tip of your fingers. Yeah, I get it.

But, I have to tell you. It was other-worldly being back in an IMAX theater watching Tenet. For all its flaws, it was a fun experience and I greatly enjoyed seeing some of the best action sequences put to film blown up on the big screen and hearing the phenomenal sound design all around me (yes, I'm aware of the dialogue we can't hear and need to in order to understand it at all). While imperfect, and love him or hate him, Christopher Nolan is one of the filmmakers we need right now. His original, mind-bending concepts have been a cinematic staple we flock to at cinemas across the globe and frequently return to at home. He's the hero we need, not the one we deserve right now.

The Future of Movie Theaters Isn't Entirely on THEM

My final point to you, is this: let's just think twice before we pay $30 for a movie we've seen before in lieu of the great theatre experience we all know, and love, and miss. Even if it isn't Tenet, let's vote with our money on the movies we want to see, and where we want to see them. Because if we don't, this could be the "New Normal" (I'm tired of hearing it, too) when it comes to how we consume our media and entertainment. Nothing scares me more than the prospect of never seeing films in a grand cinema anymore. And we should be mindful that we have more of a say in this than we know. Film production/distribution companies do not hold that kind of power over us, because they NEED us.

Let's not forget that.

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By Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

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