The Return of Movie Theaters

With Covid vaccines becoming more accessible across the country and capacity restrictions finally lifting, people are more excited than ever to sit in front of the big screen. 

As we already know, movie theaters and distribution companies lost millions of dollars due to the pandemic shutting everything down. Employees lost their jobs, and anticipated movie releases were either pushed back to a later date or moved to a digital release. Theaters were losing money fast and the future of movie theaters as we know it looked non existent. In 2020, box-office revenue hit the lowest point ever in 40 years, suffering from an 80% decline in 2020. Most movie theaters were forced to close in mid March and didn’t begin to reopen until August. AMC was one of the first chains to reopen their theaters, then Regal followed shortly after. 

Upon opening, theaters have to follow strict Covid guidelines to ensure the safety of their customers and employees. Masks are required at all times, movie times are staggered so the theaters can be cleaned between showings, and there are capacity limits to prevent large crowds. 

During the height of the pandemic, distributors such as Warner Bros. and Disney were forced to come up with alternate ways to release projects while still making a profit. Warner Bros. made a deal with HBO Max by releasing some 2020 and all of their 2021 projects simultaneously on the streaming platform for the first month while doing a theatrical release. “Wonder Woman 1984” was released this way and managed to make the Top 10 highest grossing movies of 2020, earning over $46 million dollars. Disney+ launched Premier Access in September 2020 to allow existing Disney+ customers to watch new releases from Walt Disney Studios without having to leave home. Each movie has a one-time fee of $30, in addition to the subscription fee, but once paid viewers can watch the movie as many times as they want. For some, the one time fee is comparable to the cost of a movie ticket and concessions which gives them more incentive to stay home to watch new releases. Movies like “Mulan” and “Raya and the Last Dragon” were released exclusively on Premier Access while a movie like “Cruella” was released both in theaters and on Premier Access. “Black Widow,” after being pushed back several times, will also have both a theatrical and digital release. 

The first big budget movie to be released in theaters following the pandemic shutdown was Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” which like “Wonder Woman” was also released on HBO Max. In the US alone, the film made $9 million during opening weekend and $58 million overall despite thousands of theaters still being closed. Worldwide it made $363.7 million, exceeding its $200 million budget, but still suffered from profit loss due to having to go through a second round of marketing since the pandemic pushed back the release. Warner Bros. claims that the film lost about $50 million. The box office has been having better luck in 2021 with more distributors making the decision to return to exclusively theatrical releases. The most recent one being “A Quiet Place II” which opened on May 28 and made over $47 million during opening weekend in the US. 

Through all of this, it’s clear that the cinema business and movie going has forever been altered by the pandemic. For some people, things are returning to normal and for others we’re living in a new normal. Physically going to a theater is no longer required since people can easily access new titles at home. But the one thing that hasn’t changed, is that whether we are in a theater or on a couch, movies can bring everyone together. 

By Shaylen Stancil

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