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Where are all the movie premiers?

Global moviegoing is in an absolute crisis. In many countries theater doors are closed, while in others patronage remains low, as the film industry tries to stem its losses. When people fill theaters once again what will this look like and is the future bright?

Nicola Dove/MGM

With the box office bringing in weak returns, studios delayed the big films set for this year or sidestepped a cinema premiere entirely. Disney, for example, pushed all its major releases including Marvel's "Black Widow" Pixar's "Soul" to Disney+. It even charged existing subscribers to watch the much anticipated Mulan on the service. Other films, like the next James Bond installment, "No Time to Die," and Universal’s “Fast and Furious,” were shunted to 2021. Many studio’s announced delayed releases after “Tenet”, positioned as movie theaters' saving grace, experienced disappointing ticket sales.

For cinema, the new normal will not look like the old one. There are two probable scenarios.

A combination of theatrical and pay video on demand (PVOD). A common prediction is that we’ll see ”day-and-date” releases, meaning audiences can see a film at home on the same day as in cinemas. It’s a win-win for viewers, which might be why Universal, recently struck a deal with AMC to let its movies play in theaters and on VOD simultaneously. Yet while it would surely help theaters, there’s no doubt it would eat into their ticket sales as some people choose the comfort of their couch over a theater.

Giles Keyte/Universal

Streamers step in as small cinemas struggle to survive. A bleaker scenario could see regional and some city cinemas shut down or bought out by streamers. Recently in the US, rules banning movie studios from owning cinemas were overturned. This makes it possible that the likes of Amazon or Netflix can acquire theaters, and the latter already has: New York’s single-screen Paris Theatre. There’s no doubt that as streamers get into the ring it would be a huge disruption to the cinematic landscape.

The public may need time to regain the confidence to return to cinemas, and the pandemic will likely push the film industry towards a more digital future. Cinema will endure, of course, but in what form?

Molly Bruce


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