Off Air: Death of the Movie Theaters
To get a better idea what the conversation is about, check out the article link before moving one: Regal Cinemas/Cineword Shut Down
Pat Whalen is the co-host of Yet Another MCU Podcast and the behind the scenes straw that stirs the drink at Forgotten Entertainment. Michael Butler is the co-host of multiple podcasts including Two Player Bros and Crackin' One Open.
Movie theaters are inherently reliant upon the movies they show. As studios continue to pull their films from the distribution calendar, this was bound to happen. As more and more streaming platforms become available and the barrier to entry becomes lower and lower, I fear there will be apathy towards movie theaters and the experience of going out to see a movie.
Mike, you’ve worked on the theater side of the industry, what are you hearing? How did you react to this news? And, what’s going to get people back into the theater?
Uhhh...honestly? Field and I were working together when we heard the news and started dancing to “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang!
Seriously though, it’s only a matter of time before it hits the other big theater chains and the “mom and pops”. And though it may (and does) suck that thousands more may (will) lose their jobs come December to an empty slate of openings, theaters did this to themselves. COVID is just the fast forward button; it's making happen what would have happened in 5 years or so anyway.
Theaters have been at war with TV and Home Video for decades and have held their ground, but with The Great Streaming Wars upon us, Cinema is just a casualty in a much bigger war; one that theater owners are either too old or too pig headed to see. They have continuously failed to realize what the rest of the industry and general population has known for a few years now...streaming is where it’s at.
I understand what you’re saying, streaming offers a level of convenience that the movie theater doesn’t. In recent years, the online and pre-order, what seemed to have made things easier, in fact added a barrier to just looking in the papers and going to a movie. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a big streamer; I’m peak millennial, I cut the cord and get all my content from OTT services but isn’t there something to be said about the movie theater experience?
When you’re sitting at home you’re open to the distractions that we deal with everyday - phones, computers, social media, etc. In the theater, you’re closed off from the outside world and all you have is the film and the experience you share with others. Outside from a very small handful of films (Hulu’s Palm Springs amongst them), I’ve never had as good as a time watching a movie at home as I have in the theater. Now, I understand I’m in the minority here.
Do you truly think theater is dead or do you think this is a minor blip for it? How can they recover? Will this mean theater will only be home to the blockbusters (and will small indie films be relegated to streamers)? Should studios just buy the theaters and use them as a venue for all their content? I’m really asking, should we start writing the eulogy now or do they some chance to survive?
Nothing will ever compare to the theatrical experience, it’s why I put myself in a lifetime of student debt to go to school for acting and film, but even before this, it had become clear to the corporate offices of these theater chains that blockbusters were the only thing keeping the doors open; studios know this too. We say it all the time on Forgotten Cinema, there’s just no such thing as a mid-budget film anymore. You make a horror film or a critical darling for a couple million or you go all in on the next big franchise.
Something could also be said for the average theater going public now; they suck. They talk, they yell, they go on their phones, they arrive late, they fumble with a snuck-in bag of potato chips or can of beer at the worst moments. Watching at home gives you the convenience of not having to deal with that...or at the very least it’s your own family and friends you’re telling to shut the hell up. Theaters are cool, people aren’t. And people have caught onto that with streaming. They also want to lie down, bring a blanket, maybe go to sleep. There will always be those people like you and me, who experience something transformative when those lights go down and the speakers blare, but for most...it’s an inconvenient way to watch something they’ll be streaming on their PS5 or Xbox in a few months.
This could be a blip for theaters if they save themselves. Shut it down. Shut it all down. Since we started this article, now Soul is going to Disney+, Wonder Woman might move and a bunch of other smaller films have all vacated the suck that is 2020. Even on the best day, theaters (and I’m talking individual locations) are losing thousands of dollars, that’s a fact. Shut down the expensive projectors, stop paying to show old films, furlough your staff, take advantage of any rent help the government or their landlords are offering. Wait until a sure thing. Not a new IP like Tenet. I’m talking about Bond, Wonder Woman, Black Widow.
I’ve always thought that theater companies should also become their own studios. Why can’t they produce 1 or 2 films? Maybe mid-budget films with big stars. These films can only be seen at AMC, Regal, Cinemark, whoever produced them. Then if you want them, go buy the blu-ray or hope a streamer pays the theater to show them. I don’t know how I feel about studios owning theaters; they did that back in the day and it didn’t turn out so great (see United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.). That being said, if it’s the only way to survive what’s coming, go for it.
Theaters must adapt with the changing of the times and technology. This is how they’ve survived for over a century, but I fear that those in charge now have no clue how to do this and are unwilling to change. AMC’s deal with Universal for some of their streaming revenue is a start, but it's probably a case of too little, too late.
Thanks for the in-depth response into the future of movies. It’s well said. I’m not sure I can add much more to it, except to add I like your idea of AMC or Regal, et al producing and distributing their own productions. And as we’ve discussed in the past, it doesn’t have to be just about producing films, why not launch a full media company with ancillary podcasts interviewing actors and directors about upcoming productions, short form video series to play ahead of their movies themselves (that you then upload to YouTube, or dare I say it, Quibi), an offshoot series from the film IP. The problem they’d face now is capita, which as you pointed out they have a limited supply.
Only time will tell what happens with theaters next, you pose some good ideas and I appreciate your insight on the industry. I think that wraps it up for us this week. We’ll see you next time for another industry discussion. If you do venture to the movie theater, be careful, wear a mask, and, as always, enjoy the show!