Student Opinion: The Uncertain Future of Movie Theaters Post COVID-19

By Liam Benedict 

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted almost every aspect of life and society–– business owners hurt most of all. Local businesses have been fighting for their lives and have been forced to close their doors left, and right; while, Amazon has reaped the benefits of consecutive, record-breaking profits. 

Still, even in the world of big business, certain businesses have been hit the hardest with losses and difficult hardships during the pandemic. The entertainment industry, specifically in the realm of movie theaters, is a prime example of this. Whether big or small, movie theaters have been forced to close, some of them for good. 

However, recently several chains have been working towards reopening, and have already been enjoying some success. Despite this, there seems to be a legitimate possibility that the pandemic may have turned the public off from theater-going forever. 

Throughout the year 2020, especially in the beginning months of the pandemic, the movie theater industry took some major blows. Movie theaters closed all across the United States after a few months into the pandemic. The major movie theater chain, Regal Cinemas, closed all 536 of its U.S. locations shortly after trying to reopen in August 2020, affecting cinemas locally, especially in Davis with two Regal Cinemas. 

AMC Theaters, another major chain, expects to post a $2.4 billion first-quarter loss in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, reports Forbes

Although COVID-19 is the main reason for these losses, Hollywood is also partly to blame. Given that it was deemed unsafe filming major productions during the pandemic and noting that the theaters that were still open were underperforming, Hollywood decided to postpone all of their major releases hoping that things go back to normal in the future.  

However, this decision has resulted in a serious lack of quality movies in 2020. Of the films that came out, many received negative ratings. This led to a vicious cycle: the theaters didn’t do well, so Hollywood held back on releasing the most anticipated upcoming films. This left the theaters with only a few hype-worthy movies to release, leading theaters to decline in audiences and slowly grow bankrupt. 

In recent months, some theaters have begun to reopen with mild success. The movie theater chain Cinemark, recently rose in stocks the past few months since they slowly began reopening in select locations. Exhibition analyst Eric Wold Riley has modeled the company’s future revenue as “Recovering to $1 billion in 2021, climb to $1.6 billion in 2022 and then reach $1.9 billion in 2023. If correct, the revenue in ’23 will be ahead of 2019,” reports Deadline

However, this will be for naught if streaming services kill the public’s love for the movie theater. Streaming services, unlike movie theaters, have faced record profits in the year 2020. 

In a poll done amid COVID-19, NoFilmSchool, a prestigious filmmaker forum, found that nearly twice as many people said that they would wait 90 days to see a movie at home than expressed a desire to see it first in a theater. The critical distinction here is that they weren’t referring to a theater right now they were referring to a safe, coronavirus-free theater in the future. So even if the amount of time a movie stays exclusively in theaters (the theatrical window) expands, that would not be enough to convince people. 

In fact, trends seem to dictate that the opposite is happening.

One key to Cinemark’s success is that they have reduced the theatrical window with Universal Studios, and other theaters may likely follow. So are movie theaters years away from death? I don’t think so. 

Disney CEO Bob Chapek, whose streaming service was one of the most successful, last year, has no plans on turning away from the theaters, saying, “We built those franchises through the theatrical window.” Regarding the poll from earlier, it is worth noting that the sample size is relatively small. 

Ultimately, despite being a terrible year for theaters, I don’t think that the entire industry will perish due to COVID-19. However, the future will most certainly lean more towards streaming services. 

Liam Benedict is a first-year English major from the small town of Galt, California. He is a writer and is planning on becoming a lawyer in the future.

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    1. Bill Marshall

      Particularly, because you can do far more in the back seat, @ a drive-in, than you’d get away with in a theater… more partiularly, if it is a romantic ‘chick-flick’…

      Ah… Westlane Drive-in just outside of Davis… now soccer fields…

  1. Bill Marshall

    Ah, the ‘chicken little’, apocalypic, ‘new normal’ perspective… time will tell… well prepared to be sophomoric…

    If true, everyone will need to get a new, very big screen, TV, with Dolby sound amps and surround sound stereos, speakers, to even get close to the experience, which does not matter for some films, and is a huge difference for others…

    Or perhaps we should just dictate, no new movies… avoid the rush.

    Some believe this is the “new normal”… for at least the next couple of years, I’ll believe, “This, like a kidney stone, shall pass”…  we’ll see who is correct.

    No way I’ll watch, what purports to be an artistic production, if it is all ‘filmed’ via skype and zoom, with ‘wallpaper’ as scenery…

    Oh, is there four horsemen coming down the street?

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