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Will Theaters Survive?
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a challenge for movie theaters. Will they be able to recover?
April 6, 2021
Buttered popcorn melts in your mouth as you recline in your seat, lights dimming to immerse you in the 50-foot movie screen. Music fills your ears, vibrating through the floor. You lift the fizzing Coca-Cola from your cup holder, ice rattling as you take a sip. You break open the Twizzlers and Crunch boxes and the movie begins.
Flash forward to January, 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold of America for almost an entire year. The United States far surpasses any other country in COVID-19 cases and deaths. In St. Louis, citizens are required to wear masks in public places, socially distance, and quarantine when exposed. While some theaters are open, most movie-goers are not willing to take the risk.
To accommodate these conditions, several studios have released their films through streaming services. Disney Pixar’s “Soul” and Warner Bro.’s “Wonder Woman 1984” were both released on Christmas of last year, through Disney Plus and HBO Max respectively.
As I sat in my basement, watching Diana race through Themyscira in the opening scene of “Wonder Woman 1984,” I had the sense my 50-inch television screen wasn’t doing the high-definition film justice. I missed sharing paper bags of popcorn with my friends, hearing them gasp during plot twists and even having spirited conversations on the ride home.
What I realized then is that movie theaters are about more than just seeing a film—they’re about an experience. People go to theaters to get out of the house, bond with friends and have fun. Movie theaters are tied to emotion and memories. At-home movies don’t always leave viewers with the same satisfaction.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has left viewers with little choice. Our limited interaction with the outside world has created a need for at-home entertainment. Film studios have naturally shifted toward more streaming service releases, but controversy has risen from studios planning to stream new movies even after the COVID vaccine is widely available.
Warner Bros. recently announced that all of its 2021 films would be released on HBO Max and in theaters at the same time. This announcement shocked many in the film industry. Some fear that with films available to watch at home, the demand for movie theaters will greatly reduce, and they will not make enough profit to survive.
At-home films are certainly convenient. Some viewers may enjoy watching movies in their pajamas, but others desperately miss going to theaters. Many fans of franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Dreamworks would opt for in-theater-viewing over basement-streaming as soon as public health conditions allow.
“I feel like going to the movies is a lot better because the experience is completely different than just watching one at home. It’s hard to describe but there’s something that’s so fun about going to a movie theater,” said Anette Martinson, a junior at CHS.
One studio that has dominated theaters is Marvel. In 2018, Marvel Studios released “Avengers: Infinity War” in theaters. I remember the Marvel logo flashing across the screen as I sat beside my friends, the way the audience cheered as different characters appeared, the collective booing at the end of the film and the tense anticipation for the end-credits scene. The audience was even more energized to see the three-hour sequel “Avengers: Endgame” the following year.
Being able to share emotions with an audience is a unique feature of movie theaters. Having seen Marvel films in theaters throughout my life, I know that watching a blockbuster film alone at home does not compare to watching it with an audience who cares for characters as much as you.
Fans’ love for movie franchises may be what keeps theaters afloat.
Streaming services’ original content has recently risen. At an investor’s meeting in December, Disney Plus announced a wide range of shows to be released on the platform in upcoming years. After the success of the Star Wars series, “The Mandalorian,” Star Wars has ten new shows planned. Several Marvel shows are also soon to come, with “WandaVision,” “Falcon Winter Soldier,” and “Loki” all to be released in the first half of the year.
Though some viewers expect Disney Plus’s focus on at-home streaming to wipe theaters out, this may not be the case. Marvel and Star Wars fans will have more content than ever before. Instead of repelling fans from theaters, new television series may entice them to go. Disney Plus’s original series will increase popularity and excitement around characters. Shows will tie into films, creating incentive to buy movie tickets.
Now more than ever, movie-goers have a responsibility to give back to the homes of so many memories. Those who do not feel comfortable buying tickets during the pandemic can still help local theaters by donating money or purchasing gift cards. Voicing support on social media can also make a difference.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have put a strain on theaters, but this does not ensure their demise. After being stuck inside for a year, watching films alone on a small screen in a cold basement, many movie-lovers will flock to theaters to see films with friends. Theaters may look different in the years to come, but with so many fans of cinema, they have a shot at survival.