Will Movie Theaters Survive Covid-19?

Movie Theaters Coming to a Halting Close

By Olivia Guy 

The faint sound of suspenseful music, people whispering “pass the popcorn,” and others yelling “DON’T GO IN THERE” to the not-so-original scene of the ignorant character about to walk through the door that surely has a “not-so-nice surprise” waiting for them. That is the magic of the movie theater. 

The movie theater has a place for any type of movie genre lover whether it’s comedy, action, horror, romance, or sci-fi. It’s a great rainy day gathering, date, or movie hangout. This could all come to a halting stop due to Covid-19 in the near future. 

With 29 Cinemas in Virginia and about 536 locations across the country, Regal shut down all its theaters on Oct. 8. This comes just two months after the company decided to start reopening its theaters after shutting them down due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Regal is one of the biggest movie companies in the U.S., and this shutdown may give us a glimpse into the other theater’s futures. 

Movies that were predicted to be blockbusters are now postponed. Although some movies did premiere, most theater seats remained empty because of the growing fear of Covid-19  and large groups of people. 

These movies are not making the money that is needed to cover the cost that it takes to produce a movie because of so few ticket sales.

  If no money is coming in, how will the theaters stay in business until people feel it is safe or they’re open to the public again? Even more importantly, what is going to happen to the movie making industry that cannot make big movies because of the social distancing and mask wearing that is required? 

Along with nearly 40,000 Regal employees losing their source of income, AMC theaters (another major theater company) announced that they may be facing bankruptcy by the end of the year. 

Attendance—since the resumption of business—is down 85 percent from the same time a year ago. If movie companies cannot find a way to bring business in, movie theaters will be gone, maybe for good. 

The issue still stands that studies are showing the coronavirus pandemic is not getting any better. Large gatherings like sitting in a movie theater—even with social distancing measures in place—may still be strongly discouraged by health officials and aren’t appealing enough to most consumers. 

With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other major streaming platforms on the rise, customers who would commonly attend the cinema feel it is not worth the risk of attending the theater. The best-case scenario is that these theaters do the best they can and wait out the pandemic until audiences start filing in. The problem is that new studies show the pandemic could last well into 2021. 

Even if some consumers felt confident and comfortable enough to go to the theaters, these numbers will most likely not be enough for movies to produce and profit by a large enough margin to release their movies to the theaters. This results in many well-anticipated movies that were to be released like Mulan, A Quiet Place Part II, Candyman, Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Wonder Woman 1984 to be postponed to a later date. 

Following the news of Regal closing all of its theaters, AMC and Cinemark announced their theaters and screens would remain running. AMC and Cinemark are far from in the clear though. Financial records show that AMC lost $2.7 billion in the first six months of 2020, and Cinemark lost $230 million. 

Each chain announced it can only hold out through part of 2021 unless circumstances change, and quickly. The chains announced this despite collecting hundreds of millions in debt this year, laying off tens of thousands of employees, and reducing salaries. 

If Covid-19 numbers continue to rise like they are, theaters will not be able to pay these debts back and are getting closer to bankruptcy every day. 

Theaters have already begun cutting back theater hours and days of operation due to the decreasing number of people in the audiences. If this is any indication of what is to come in the future, it is not looking good. 

It is hard for any business to continue and do well under these circumstances, and movies are not an exception. Maybe movies will open and thrive again one day, but for now, we grab our remote, pop some of our own popcorn, and enjoy the movies from inside our homes.

 

Movies Will Make a Comeback

By Sophia Meagher

Movie theaters across the nation closed down in March and finally began to reopen at the end of August—only to close again due to the lack of movies being released. This means that while theaters have been closed since March, streaming has increased as much as 85 percent in just that month. Naturally, this has led many people to wonder if COVID-19 will be the death of cinema. Although the pandemic will have a large and lasting impact on the film industry, it is premature and ignorant of the history of film to say that this will be the end. We should expect some sort of rebound of the industry.

The first point to be addressed when discussing the effect of the current pandemic on moviegoing is that it has survived a pandemic before. From 1918-1920, a strain of the influenza virus, called the “Spanish Flu,” took the lives of 50 million people. At that time, silent hour-long feature films were one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Mirroring our current situation, theaters were forced to close on a regional basis, and production companies decided to withhold new releases. It is important to note that there were no streaming services in that time period as there are now; in fact, there wasn’t even television yet. This meant that there was an even bigger effect on the film industry than there is now. Companies stopped productions completely due to lack of demand for films for the closed theaters. Now, at least production companies can use streaming services to continue producing movies, like Disney has been doing with Disney+.  Despite the complete shutdown of the film industry as a result of the influenza pandemic, the film industry did not die, instead adapting and thriving. Though the smaller production businesses had to shut down, the larger ones changed shape and led to the rise of Hollywood. The 1930s and ’40s are largely considered the Golden Age of Hollywood. This might be similar to what will happen with today’s pandemic: Some theaters will have to shut down and larger ones will struggle financially for a while, but ultimately survive.

Though the parallels between the two pandemics are obvious, there are many other obstacles that cinema has overcome. One of the biggest of these was the advent of television. As previously mentioned, television had not existed during the cinema’s struggles with the 1918 pandemic, and that caused more problems with the film industry because it had to completely shut down. However, it also means that after the pandemic, movies were one of the few forms of affordable entertainment—especially during the Great Depression. With the expansion of television in the 1950s, the film industry no longer held a monopoly over audio-visual entertainment. Had television existed during the 1918 flu, it is possible that the film industry might not have rebounded so successfully, and similarities could be drawn to today’s pandemic and streaming services. 

Nevertheless, cinema survived the pandemic and it survived having the rival of TV, which–like streaming services–allowed people to watch programs from the comfort of their own homes. It also gave access to a wider variety of entertainment and, being cheaper, to a wider variety of people. In 1946, cinema admissions reached a peak and began dropping steeply after that every year until the late 1950s due to this new option. A major producer at that time, David O Selznick, proclaimed in 1951 that Hollywood would never survive and compared it to being full of crumbling pyramids. But yet again, cinema avoided death by adapting and thriving. This time, its savior was the creation of the summer blockbusters of the 1970s like Jaws, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, as well as making movie screens bigger and adding better sound systems. These advantages offered something that consumers could not have in their own home. Though the movie experience was much different than the 1930s and 40s when people would flock several times a week to the theaters, moviegoing was still a prominent feature of the American culture. 

The arrival of a new decade brought new technology, and another rival for the film industry: VHS tapes. Going to the theaters was no longer the only option for movie lovers, who could simply rent their favorite directors’ and actors’ films from video stores. Many thought that if TV had wounded theater admissions, then VHS would kill it. Again, the dire predictions were wrong. Box office revenue doubled from the start of the decade to the end, and being able to watch movies from home only increased consumers’s desire to see new productions on the big screen. Similarly, the movie industry survived when DVDs were developed.

That brings us to the much more recent emergence of streaming services. Streaming has undeniably taken a toll on traditional cinema. With VHS and DVD, most movies were shown in theaters for months before finally being released to take home. Though this is still true of blockbuster movies and streaming services, some of those services–such as Netflix–have begun making their own original movies that completely skip the big screen stage. This is probably a large factor in a reduction of interest in going to theaters to watch movies. Even so, streaming services by themselves have not spelled the death of cinema. As previously mentioned, box office revenue doubled in the 1980s. However, it didn’t stop there. In 1990, box office revenue in North America was $5.02 billion. By 2010, that number doubled, and it was $11.32 billion in 2019. This shows that despite a huge increase in streaming services in the last decade, box office revenue has still been increasing. In summary, despite the blow from streaming services, cinema has continued to thrive.

All of this was before COVID-19 hit, leaving the question: How will cinema cope with the closure of theaters and the increase of streaming services? Cinema has survived a lot, and its death has been predicted myriad times. The pandemic in 1918 very well could have killed the movie industry. Just like now, theaters closed and production was drawn to a halt. Unlike now, there were no streaming services. There was nothing to keep the movie industry alive in the time that it was closed, but it still came back even stronger than before. When people had a choice of watching movies and TV from the comfort of their homes for a cheaper price, they still flocked to the theaters. Why? It’s part of our culture. We love movies, whether it’s taking kids to the movies, going with friends, or going on a date. This is evidenced by the way cinema has survived and adapted since the beginning of its existence. If that is not a strong enough argument, then simply look at the money. After the 1918 pandemic, many small movie businesses shut down while the big ones got bigger, leading to the rise of Hollywood. Something similar could happen as a result of this pandemic. Already, Disney has bought Marvel, Lucasfilms, and other smaller movie production companies. Marvel produced the highest grossing film of all time Avengers: Endgame, released just in 2019. Box office revenue has continued to increase, which means that movie production companies have continued to make money. As the pandemic begins to fade–whenever that might be–those companies will still want to make money, and therefore will still want to use cinema to do so. The movie industry has survived a lot, and it will continue to do so. It may not be in any way we imagine, but just as it has for the last century, cinema will bounce back.

 

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20200403-why-cinemas-will-bounce-back-from-the-coronavirus-crisis

https://www.statista.com/statistics/187069/north-american-box-office-gross-revenue-since-1980/

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/lessons-for-the-movie-industry-from-the-1918-influenza-pandemic

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/regal-cinemas-movie-theater-shut-down-united-states/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/11/coronavirus-movie-theaters-rushed-to-reopen-blockbusters-were-pushed.html

https://www.indiewire.com/2020/03/tv-streaming-march-2020-increase-nielsen-report-1202221796/

https://open.lib.umn.edu/mediaandculture/chapter/8-2-the-history-of-movies/