Cinemas in the Wake of COVID-19

Cinemas in the Wake of COVID-19

Nicholas Biglin, Communications

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on all aspects of daily life, including the disruption of economies and industries. One such industry that has been affected on multiple levels is the film industry, from the filming process to the distribution of content. More than ever before, people have turned to streaming services and avoided visiting movie theaters, due to the danger of the VOVID virus. As a result, any cinemas have temporarily closed.

This raises the question, what is the role of theaters for the film industry in the aftermath of the pandemic? Fears were initially spiked when multiple reports between March and June predicted the bankruptcy of AMC theaters, the largest movie chain in the world. AMC had shut down its theaters mid-March in compliance with CDC guidelines. Only recently, on August 20th, were the theaters able to reopen. 

In March it was predicted the virus had cost the film industry $5 billion, but since then, that cost has been extremely inflated. At the beginning of the United States’ COVID outbreak, AMC and other major corporations’ stocks suffered major losses; since then AMC’s has somewhat recovered.

Streaming services, on the other hand, have been doing quite well. While most major streaming services are owned by other conglomerates (HBO owned by AT&T, Hulu and Disney+ owned by Disney, Amazon Prime Video owned by Amazon), Netflix remains independent. Interestingly, its stock has been doing very well despite being unassociated with a large corporation. Like all businesses, Netflix took a hit in early March but since then has recovered mightily to reach an all-time high in early September.

A study in June found that more Americans than ever are subscribed to video-streaming services, though also noted that with financial-hardship coming, many may cancel their subscriptions in the future. 

Despite films choosing to release on streaming services instead of in theaters, there are still reasons to go to the movies. For one, it benefits the economy. Movie theaters employ a great number of people; it was estimated in January 2020 that around 456,000 Americans worked at a movie theater.

Furthermore, in 2019 the North American box office pulled in $11.32 billion dollars. Notably, multiple transactions occur at movie theaters, not just for tickets but also for concessions. Theaters themselves remain valuable to the economy in ways that streaming services cannot replicate.

Artistically speaking, many films are designed to be seen on the big screen, instead of on personal devices. Christopher Nolan refused to release his new film Tenet on streaming services and demanded it be released in theaters. This led it to be accessible in countries outside the United States first, as they were able to open theaters months ago.

As a director, he has been a proponent of the IMAX film format as a way to experience all the grandeur of his movies. This is not an isolated incident. Other big-name filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg have spoken in the past about their preference for theaters over streaming. The fact of the matter is, theaters change the way films are made, meaning that those produced for streaming are created differently.

There is something profoundly different between lounging on a couch at home and squinting at a small screen versus sitting down in a dark theater, immersing yourself in the story you’re about to experience. The dichotomy of theater-going is that it is simultaneously a communal and intimate experience.

Although you’re there among many other people, it can feel like it’s just you and the film. The audience can enhance the viewing experience, like when they collectively hold their breath at a tense part in a horror movie or laugh together at a joke. There’s simply nothing else like it.