Years ago, not one person had envisioned the pandemic’s severity and what it could do to rupture the entertainment industry. Last year’s box office totals proved to be astonishing with record-breaking blockbusters and a reassuring that the theaters would still be standing strong for the long-term. All that possibility (and hope) has collapsed within a staggering nine months since the pandemic hit, and the future of cinema stands in an unknown void.
Warner Brothers, one of the top film companies globally, announced that it would release its entire slate of 2021 films simultaneously into theaters and its HBO Max streaming service (in the U.S.) as a direct response to the pandemic (found here). This drastic measure includes anticipated blockbusters such as Godzilla vs. Kong, Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, and more. Some other companies like Disney and Sony are also following in the steps of Warner Brothers. It may work as a temporary measure, but it comes at a cost and then some.
One massive problem occurring already is the continual closing of theaters across the world. AMC is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy, and Cineworld and Regal continually have to close theaters. It all cements a new different reality for all of Hollywood, and that is subscriptions are now the name of the game. Netflix became a threat when it reorganized itself as a subscription service back in 2007. Nowadays, it has single-handedly provoked companies to fight for their standing and initiate subscriptions. The loss of folks coming to the theaters crippled the box office (including the lowest record box office weekends in North America since 1998).
The act committed by Warner Brothers also brings up an intriguing question: how will Hollywood be able to find success in releasing films from now on? Not many are precisely fond of paying a select amount per month to appreciate any movie. Some liked the older times where tickets were less than $10, and they could commit to seeing multiple films in one weekend. Warner Brothers may have thought of a solution for their 2021 movies, but those are guaranteed not to make anywhere close to films they have released in previous years. The original 2016 Suicide Squad film became the 10th highest-grossing film of 2016, amassing almost $750 million. All three film entries in the Matrix series made over $400 million each at the box office. Unless many folks who watch films on a general basis could pay large amounts of money to witness these features, there is no chance.
Look at the Mulan remake, for example. It earned $70 million on a $200 million-dollar budget (not including VOD purchases). The definition of a box-office bomb, which clarifies how Hollywood’s perspective of releasing blockbusters every month came back to bite them. Many also balked at the idea of paying $30 on Disney+ to watch a remake of a beloved Disney animated classic. There was no win-win insight for Disney; only a little belief nostalgia could secure their victory. That may have worked for them in 2019 with Aladdin and The Lion King, but those were the pre-pandemic days where crowds formed in theaters and families gushed over these works.
Warner Brothers has a lot working against it for a small, positive change. It is a guarantee on their behalf that these films will be released next year, but they will not yield the same success and will most likely have to become enjoyed in the home setting rather than the theater. It does leave the door open for folks to still return to the theaters, but the suffering theaters have endured this year may leave them to start dying off soon.
It is a mess and one can hope that the setting they were once greatly valued next year restores films. Otherwise, the future may officially become dependent on households for entertainment.