The Current State of Cinema: Make or Break?

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic hasn't been too kind to the film industry.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic hasn't been too kind to the film industry. As if theater chains such as AMC and Regal weren’t having a hard enough year already, Warner Bros. recently announced that they would release all their 2021 films on HBO Max, an online streaming platform, rather than in movie theaters. Just like that, AMC's stocks plummeted and some movie critics have even gone as far to predict the impending dissolution of American movie theaters.

Perhaps Warner Bros.'s decision comes from the underwhelming performance of Tenet by Christopher Nolan. Nolan's summer blockbuster was expected to save cinemas from Covid-19; however, it sold only $30 million in the United States to lackluster reviews. Tenet's poor performance sent shockwaves through the film industry. Wonder Woman 1984, another Warner Bros. film widely anticipated by the world audience, amassed terrible reviews online for its boring plot. Black Widow and No Time To Die have also been delayed multiple times in 2020. Last year, more than 70 acclaimed directors gathered to urge the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to salvage, through increased funding and new proposals, movie theaters from going under. It also doesn't help that amidst the struggle of movie theater releases, streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Studios seem to keep winning. Netflix productions Mank, Da 5 Bloods, The Trial of Chicago 7, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom have all been critically acclaimed and widely watched despite being limited to online viewership and only select theatrical releases. Amazon Studios' One Night in Miami also seems to be on pace for an Oscar nomination. Against many directors' resentment, streaming platforms have been slowly but surely marking their territory within the film industry, even without the aid of the box office.

Somewhere in the world, filmmakers like Martin Scorsese are devastated. In their eyes, coronavirus and technology have killed the movie theater experience and has sent the film industry to rock bottom. However, looking at the American economy as a whole, the decline of cinema is not an exception during this financial recession. It seems like people have forgotten that much like the rest of the world, we are suffering from a global pandemic. Film fanatics should not view the current state of theater as a symptom of it's inevitable death, but rather a mere hiatus. Movie theaters aren’t going anywhere.

Movie theaters provide viewers with a unique experience that many prefer over a home screening. Not only is it the only place to access a 70-foot screening with a blacked-out setting, but it's also a social experience, much like how a restaurant is compared to the home kitchen. The persistence of drive-in theaters proves that audiences still prefer the big screen and the social viewing environment. Before the pandemic, movies were doing better than ever, and the numbers prove the point. Eight out of the top 10 highest grossing films were released in the last decade, three of which were from 2019. It was not only the year of critically acclaimed films but also of blockbusters and tentpole films such as Avengers: Endgame and The Lion King that had viewers flocking to local theaters. To say that the movie theater industry is dying, when not even a year ago it was arguably at its peak, is an irresponsible judgement.

Ironically, the biggest cynics of the film industry are the critics themselves—too quick to mark the demise of the film industry. Covid-19 has certainly exposed harsh truths about the movie theater experience: it's not the most clean, efficient, or convenient. However, if we can agree that this pandemic is not eternal, then movie theaters still have a place in America. The shift to streaming platforms is merely an adaptation to the current climate, just as half-filled stadiums, take-out restaurants, and temporary closures of public spaces have been adjustments to the pandemic. Theaters, with not only the big screen but also the warmth and experience of cinema, cannot be replicated by a computer, and clearly America still yearns for such an experience that is so ingrained in its consumer culture. Cinematic culture has always been a vital part of the American experience, serving as a way to escape from reality into a fictional, romanticized world that often seems especially attractive during difficult times. Whether the challenge be the Great Depression or World War II, cinema has consistently come out strong the other side, so who's to say it won't in face of the current pandemic? Just as there will always be people reading hard copy books, fans attending concerts and events, diners in restaurants, and athletes in public gyms, there will be people that prefer the movie theater experience, and so box office has yet to go.

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