The COVID Cinema Climate: What is next for the American Cinema Experience

BY JOHN CARTER JR

With major motion pictures being moved to streaming platforms by their respective studios and others being delayed as a way to curb losses due to the global pandemic, many movie theatres are indefinitely closing shop. The development and business of studios, malls, streaming services and movie theaters alike have been affected. As 2020 begins to wrap up many in the industry look to 2021 and onward to address the shortcomings of this year. However, is the damage to certain sectors of the film industry too far gone?

According to AP News in October, Cineworld Group Plc said that it would close 536 Regal cinemas in the U.S. and 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse venues in the U.K affecting some 45,000 employees.

One question posed by movie aficionados is what do these changes mean for the future of the movie-watching experience and what role does streaming, specifically direct to stream, play in the cinema crisis? In September, Disney decided to avoid a theatrical release date for their highly anticipated Mulan live action remake and launch it directly on Disney+ for an extra fee. This was met with criticism from fans and insiders alike, According to CNBC Phil Clapp, chief executive at the U.K. Cinema Association. 

“With cinemas across the U.K. now continuing to reopen and welcome back their customers, the decision by Walt Disney Studios yesterday to put ‘Mulan’ on their Disney+ service and not into cinemas will be seen by many as hugely disappointing and mistimed,” Clapp said.

This isn’t the only instance of a film being moved directly to streaming and is hardly the biggest controversy surrounding this kind of decision. Earlier this year AMC banned Universal films from showing in their theaters after Trolls World Tour skipped its Theatrical release. In a scathing response to the decision, Regal Entertainment stated “Today we make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us.”

However this didn’t completely deter online releases this year. Films like Scoob, The Invisible Man, The Witches, and more skipped their initial theatrical release. While some studio date push backs like Wonder Woman 1984 seem to convey the intent of a theatrical release, the recent announcement that the newest Pixar film Soul, starring Jamie Fox and Tina Fey, would also be skipping theaters may lower faith in Studios like Disney on the side of theatres.

Studios continue to play tug of war with film release dates, Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow, Scream 5, The French Dispatch, Candyman, Halloween Kills, just to name a few, have been moved around or pushed back. If the trend of skipping theatrical releases persists we could see many of these films on our streaming services in the coming months. It should be considered that these scheduling problems will not cease as soon as 2020 is over as the news that more delays come out every month. Some have suggested the studios (who own streaming services) may not need theatres at all to deliver their film experiences to the population.

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