Covid-19 May End the Movie Theater Industry

So, it’s time to ask a question, should the movie theater die?


Photo by Deven Breen on Pixabay

In the strange times we currently find ourselves in, many businesses have shuttered their doors but one that seems to be clutching onto dear life is the movie theater industry. 

Just last year record profits were made at the box office with Avengers: Endgame, which became the highest grossing movie of all time, raking in $2.798 billion. However, other than these giant releases, the movie theater is getting no traction on smaller films. We can see this effect with most studios pumping out sequels and spinoffs, not original films. 

But the big shockwave ofthe COVID-19 pandemic, sent the box office into a depression since March with the theaters closed down for months. Some are now only finally opening up. 

So, it’s time to ask a question, should the movie theater die?

With theaters opening slowly, film studios tested the waters with films like Warner Brothers’ Tenet and Disney’s Mulan. Each took  different approaches to releasing their films.  Tenet opted to try theaters while Mulan released on Disney Plus. 

Disney tacked on $30 in addition to the $7 monthly subscription fee, deciding that it would not be profitable enough to just release the film on the streaming service. 

How did the profits stack up? Tenet currently stands taller with $250.1 million in total global box office revenue and Mulan netted $57 million in the global box office and $90 million from Disney Plus. But, while Tenet has made more money, the theater takes a percentage of that cut which is usually 45 percent per ticket to the movie theater and 55 percent to the studio. 

So while Tenet made more money, Disney may end up with more of a net profit, since all the money went straight to them. This begs the question: is it more lucrative for a film studio to dodge the movie theater to keep all of the money?  Most film studios don’t have a popular streaming service that they own. Only time will tell which ends up being more profitable for the studios.

And, are movie theaters even that good to begin with? We have been raised on the idea that going to the theater is the best way to experience a film. But is it? 

Having to pay for overpriced concessions and audience members interrupting to the point you have no idea what is happening: is this ideal? While yes, the movie theater was made because it was the only way to see a film when the television was not yet invented. But, now, we have so many less-pricey ways to watch films with access to countless movies and television shows for a monthly subscription service that costs less than the average ticket to a movie theater. And many home theater systems rival the sound you can experience in theaters.

If theaters survive, it will be because the shared experience of viewing a movie with others, screen size and just getting out of the house matter more than price and convenience.

Update Dec. 3 2020

Warner Bros. announced today that it will release its entire movie line-up for 2021 in U.S. theaters and its streaming service HBO Max. The decision includes anticipated films “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” and the fourth installment in the “Matrix” franchise.