Movie theatres have been a staple in entertainment since the early 1900s. Though there were theatres opened earlier, the first theatre that exclusively played motion pictures was the Nickelodeon, which opened on June 19, 1905 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That is 116 years of movie magic making its way into our hearts. 116 years, now taken down by the Covid-19 pandemic. The last year has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of theatres close across the world and actors, production teams, theatre workers and fans have had to adapt to a world where movie theatres couldn’t exist. Now as the world of cinema begins to open its doors again, how has the movie industry changed? Will the movie going experience go back to being a staple in entertainment?
I’ll admit, this entire article was inspired by a video featuring Matthew McConaughey, shared by Ryan Reynolds. It was a look at the theatre industry as a whole and managed to feature employees that the shut-downs affected directly. We often consider how huge film productions were shut down, but have we considered how this affected the people who run the theatres? The video ends on the words “The Academy thanks everyone working tirelessly to bring the movies back to the big screen. #THEBIGSCREENISBACK”. Yes, we can look at this as a ploy to drive people back to theatres, but to me, it’s just one end of the industry reaching out to another, they’re all part of a team and sometimes I think we as fans forget about that.
“…people would normally be flocking to the movie theatre in droves for these titles.”
Fans and theatres have been using the hashtag on social media to show their excitement to head back to the big screen. With huge announcements like Marvel Phase 4 bringing out sure to be hits all year, new Venom, In the Heights and A Quiet Place Part II trailers being released, and Disney’s premiere of Cruella, people would normally be flocking to the movie theatre in droves for these titles. But now things have changed. Wear a mask, keep your distance, sterilize everything…these are the words we hear in the back of our minds when we go anywhere. Is the big screen worth all that trouble, worth all that stress?
The short answer is yes. The movie theatre is a part of history, a part of fandoms, a part of us. They’re first dates and family nights. They’re midnight releases and marathons. They’ve been a part of small towns and big blockbusters for over a hundred years. So, what if the experience has changed a little? It does not mean it has to go away altogether.
I recently got to listen in on the Cineplex Inc. Q1 2021 Analyst Conference call. They outline what Cineplex is doing as cinemas begin to reopen, “We have diligently prepared for the safe reopening of all of our theatres and LBE venues, carefully reexamining our buildings and implementing an industry leading health and safety program to keep our employees and guests comfortable and safe”
They went on to speak a little about what kind of risk theatres are to movie-goers, “When we consider the safety of movie going, we know that it doesn’t hold the same risk as other indoor services and gatherings, and we continue to actively work with government regulators and public health experts to highlight the safety protocols in our venue. We are proud of the continued track record of zero reported cases of in-cinema Covid transmission globally.” They continue the conversation going on to mention a study from the Technical University of Berlin that has found that transmission is much less likely in settings like cinemas, theatres and museums compared to classrooms and offices. Realistically, a bunch of masked patrons, sitting quietly, all facing one direction proves to be a lower risk than kids running and talking, or adults piled on top of each other in an active office setting, who knew?
Another factor to consider are vaccines rolling out across the continent. Host of MythBusters, Kari Byron posted to Twitter a while back about heading back into theatres now that she’s vaccinated. It seems many people are looking forward to “re-entry to the old ways”, which is a good sign for theatres overall. I know I cannot WAIT for a big screen, booming speakers, sticky floors and gooey butter covered popcorn.
Safety aside, here is where I really am concerned, straight-to-streaming releases. I understand that while the whole world was on lockdown these kinds of releases were a godsend for those of us cooped up at home, and I’m sure they were appreciated by the big budget companies making the movies. Some of the most notable releases were Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Raya and the Last Dragon. Streaming services have been charging money for the release of movies that we would normally pay theatres to see. People have gotten used to the comfort of their own living rooms, so now that theatres are opening up again, what’s next for major blockbuster releases?
According to CNBC, only 35% of North American theatres were open in January of this year. Many were shut down due to restrictions, but several had to close just because they couldn’t keep up with operating costs with such limited product. As an avid movie-goer, I’m concerned that many theatres won’t be able to stay open with the ability to stream the same popular titles from home for much cheaper than a usual night out at the movie theatre, complete with snacks.
CNBC did deliver a little bit of good news, some larger theatres, like AMC and Cinemark, were able to negotiate with bigger studios, like Universal, to obtain a chunk of the profits from on-demand streaming of newly released movies. Good news for the big guys, not so much for the smaller theatres. Pacific Theatres, which owns over 300 theatres in California, announced in April that they would be closing their doors permanently, specifically due to the Covid-19 economic losses. Though I’m sure this can be said for hundreds of ‘little guy’ companies, and is not just limited to the entertainment industry.
Parents, adults, employees and movie fans need to make the call that is right for them. Maybe streaming from HBO Max or Disney+ is right for you. Maybe you’re vaccinated already, or you trust the health and safety protocols in place and heading back to the theatre is the right call. Or maybe you just really, really miss the big screen and warm movie popcorn. Whatever decision you make, it doesn’t look like big cinemas will be gone for much longer. So, let’s cheer for our favourite movies, put our hands together for all the hard workers in the entertainment industry, and lower the lights, because in the words of Matthew McConaughey, “The big screen is back!”