Of the many experiences sorely missed since the intrusion of COVID-19, time spent in movie theaters ranks among them. Before life was interrupted, few things could compare to the joy of walking into your local theater, buzzing with excitement for the newest blockbuster. The smells of fresh popcorn would overwhelm the senses, and the big screen would fill the eyes as a sought-after story unfolded for a packed audience.
A semblance of that experience still exists. Theaters are open, but they represent something people must brave if they wish to see a film that badly. There are no more packed audiences, and movies that would draw that kind of crowd have had their release dates pushed back and adapted more times than one can count.
These are not inherently bad things. With COVID-19’s looming presence, precautions are needed to compensate for the risk. Even though a great experience with people at a theater is missed, it doesn’t necessitate risking one’s health.
However, as movie theaters have suffered during this pandemic, a new factor has emerged that could prove detrimental to their longevity.
The popularity of streaming services has continued to grow, but that popularity has all but exploded within the past year. Many studios have decided to take advantage of the situation by shifting movies that would’ve otherwise had a theatrical release to services like Disney Plus and HBO Max. Once more, this is not an inherently bad thing. It’s a way to continue providing entertainment to people who sorely need it during times that can only be described as dismal.
However, this move has cost theaters money needed to stay in business. While major theater chains might be able to survive the loss, many local theaters have had to file for bankruptcy. There is a growing concern that streaming services could put theaters out of business altogether as more and more people gravitate toward virtual formats for their entertainment.
There’s no guarantee that the problem will fix itself when the pandemic is over, either. Theaters could be too far gone by the time that happens. But more than just money, streaming services also offer an ease that movie theaters do not. In an age where efficiency and quickness is valued, it’s much easier to subscribe to a streaming service for entertainment rather than taking the time to drive to a theater and get situated before a movie starts.
With studios like Warner Bros. announcing that all of their 2021 releases will be moved to HBO Max and Disney Plus becoming the new home for animated releases, it certainly looks like that is the direction things are heading. While many filmmakers and actors remain hopeful that theaters will enjoy a comeback after the pandemic is over, there is no promise that movie theaters will make it out of this pandemic without being fundamentally impacted more than they already have.
One can only hope that the return to normalcy is sooner rather than later. Call it an old-fashioned ideal, but that joyous feeling of watching films on the big screen is something that can never be replicated in the way streaming services offer.