Movie Theaters: Survival in the U.S. Beyond the Pandemic

Movie theaters stay closed in the U.S., and re-opening them is not in the cards. However, many states, counties, cities,

Movie Theater Pandemic

Movie theaters stay closed in the U.S., and re-opening them is not in the cards. However, many states, counties, cities, and towns allow restaurants, bowling alleys, gyms, and shopping malls to stay open as cases of COVID-19 continue to skyrocket in The United States. Entertainment is not vital when home-based alternatives exist in abundance. Wherever one can access Wi-Fi, streaming services can provide an evening of entertainment right at home.

George Clooney told Variety’s Claudia Eller that, “What [streaming] has done is provide thousands and thousands of new jobs for actors, writers, directors and producers who are making some really interesting content. It’s given new filmmakers, young people and minorities opportunities to work, so there’s nothing but good that comes out of this.”

There was a decade-long decrease in existing local theaters before the pandemic. Attendance dropped 5% in 2019. These declines sped up given the current circumstances as studios pushed most box office releases expected in 2020 to 2021. Those decisions by studios leave no revenue stream for movie theaters. Yet these past months of 2020 saw drive-ins from the 1900s become popular again. Though they were everywhere, drive-ins are no longer accessible to the public.

It always goes back to streaming, which frustrates individuals who spent their childhoods in the theaters. Cinemas outlasted expectations when people thought that none would exist by now. Crowds used to put on their “Sunday best” to go see a film. Times change, local theaters close at an exponential rate because of the pandemic, but the cinema experience will remain.

Nostalgia and Normal, a Movie Theater Experience

Movie Theater Audience

Today, films are something everyone can enjoy at a theater. It is a cheap form of entertainment for the entire family. Cheaper than a Broadway show, but subscribing to streaming services from home is the cheapest choice. Still, moviegoers go today for the reasons those who wore suits and ties did. It is an enjoyable night out. A person could laugh and cry within a two-hour time span. Theaters are great places to go out with friends, family, and love interests. Creators make movies for the big screen. They are appealing in that medium, and the popcorn tastes better according to most.

Society may experience fear in public spaces, but humans crave the ebb and flow of their pre-pandemic lives. People want to watch these films with each other while projectors display their soon-to-be-favorite characters and scenes. When the theaters close, a part of normal dies with them. Hope remains if a market and budgets exist to produce box office films. After all, moviemaking is a gigantic business. The movie theater remains the primary and most profitable distributor of the product that is film.

As George Clooney said for Variety, “[L]et’s be clear that in 1950 everybody panicked that the movie industry would be done because of television, and then it was VHS, and then it was DVDs. The truth of the matter is there’s always going to be a great space for cinema. People have to get out of the house . . . The movie industry is going to continue to carry on. Has [streaming] created some different viewing habits? A little bit. But you know the film industry survives these things; it always does . . . And part of it is because we need a collective experience and it’s still a great date night. Dinner and a movie is still pretty great. And kids still like to get in the dark with whoever they’re seeing. They want to get away from their parents. So young people are still going to go to the movies . . . The movie industry, Hollywood, which everybody loves to crap all over, is one of the largest exporters of original product in the United States.”

The Box Office Turns More Profit, For Now

Box office films last season turned out more profit than those distributed via streaming service in 2020. Netflix and its rivals make billions per year, distributing more content faster. Still, hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office define a movie’s success. The Lion King live-action remake made ‌$185 million in the U.S. during opening weekend. By comparison, the Mulan live-action remake which streamed around the world only generated $35.5 million. Mulan was a flop when contrasted to pre-COVID standards for an expected film, though she never went to the box office.

Tenet’s box office release in the U.S. only generated $20 million on its opening Labor Day weekend 2020. Mulan made more than Tenet did. However, Tenet pre-pandemic would gross more than Mulan ever did streaming on Disney+. That logic follows a trend. The highest-grossing films in history released in theaters first with huge opening weekends at the box office. It does not matter how anybody works with the numbers‌.

George Clooney suggested for Variety that, “we should be giving federal aid to the theaters . . . I would make the argument that they should be subsidizing the theaters and keeping everybody afloat.”

That is one option, but actors like Clooney make millions in Hollywood, more than enough to spread their hard-earned money around and keep the movie theaters alive themselves. Whether it is the government or the Hollywood elite, someone has to step up. While they are at it, maybe they could replace the ones closed by the pandemic.

Go to Movie Theaters in 2021

Movie Theater Concession Stand

Across the country, local cinemas close, and the future remains ominous. An end to quarantine will bring that mountainous buildup of debt throughout 2020 to crush economies. Hollywood will not escape that burden. Major U.S. cities are the primary source of income for box offices. Whatever takes place here affects the fate of the global film industry. Mountains of debt plus the scale of the collective fear the virus brings will decide what happens to the cinema. The U.S. box office stays if producers continue creating for big screens, and those films turn a profit.

People still want to see movies. For the nostalgia of their childhoods or an emotional rollercoaster like nothing else. For popcorn and an evening off the living room couch. The big screens and surround sound feels different from the uncomfortable seats and sticky floors. Movie theaters have a future in the U.S. Whatever form that takes in the coming decades will be welcome, and those same experiences will span generations. The future generations deserve to know the same emotional impact of viewing a film on the big screen. They deserve to know what a crowd full of tears and laughter feels like. What too much butter does to popcorn.

People deserve to have whatever they want, while studios make movies for the big screen wherever big screens are available. They satisfy that need, nostalgia. That escape humans enjoy every once in a while. None of that could exist without movie theaters. For these reasons and more, the cinemas will survive beyond 2020. They will live on in the 21st century, no matter the difficulties created from alternative viewing options. Future generations need to know the big screen experience because nothing can replace it.