It’s easy to list all the ways that the Coronavirus has changed our everyday lives. From working at home to losing employment to simply being stuck at home with no escape from your children. Our lives have been altered, some irrevocably, and while the country slowly begins its attempt at reopening there are some things that may never return to normal. This is perhaps most apparent in the movie going experience, a tradition we often forget has been in jeopardy for quite some time but now seems to be disappearing with no true recovery in sight. The concept of buying your tickets in person, standing in line to buy overpriced popcorn and soda, and watch 20 minutes of previews before your feature is becoming a relic, and with the power of streaming, the unfortunate circumstance of quarantine and theaters closed indefinitely across the country it’s hard to see how things will ever go back to normal.
To understand just how much the movie going experience is changing, this past weekend a drive-in movie theater in Florida accounted for the entire box office report in the US. While this drive-in theater is not the only one operating and there are some theaters scattered throughout the country that still playing movies, this particular drive-in is one of the only ones who willing shared their box office numbers and is also showing new releases. Granted, these “new releases” are IFC Film Festival movies, Resistance (A WWII mime biopic) and Swallow (a psychological thriller) bringing in a whooping box office total of $33,456 for the weekend. I can’t remember the last time I went to the drive-in, and to see a single drive-in theater quite literally be the weekend box office is pretty unsettling and not a good sign for what happens to movie theaters when this is all over.
In contrast, Trolls: World Tour was released as a rental on VOD April 10th and has made over $50 million, making it one of the most profitable streamed films without a box office release. And it is here in these two examples that we see just how much things are changing. Why pay $100 to take 3 kids to the movies when you can pay $20 and watch it in the comfort of your own home?
We’ve always known that we could do this, but there was always a choice. You could choose to go to the movies or your could choose stay home, but with the recent state of the world the choice is made for you. Now more than ever we are seeing the impact of VOD and streaming services, and the big wigs counting their money are seeing it too, both of which are not a good sign for movie theaters as we know them today. We have long suspected that streaming would change how we watch movies, but with the aid of the pandemic it seems to be happening far more rapidly than we could have foreseen.
As if streaming release success wasn’t enough, AMC Theaters, a nationwide staple for moviegoers is struggling to stay afloat and desperately trying to avoid filing for bankruptcy. There are concerns that they may not financially recover from the shut down due Coronavirus, and their struggle should raise some eyebrows of just how far and how much things are changing. With the ever growing stream of content and streaming services, it becomes harder and harder to justify leaving our homes to get our movie fix. And if VOD releases continue to turn profits, we may see it happen more and more, thus halting the revenue needed for theaters to survive, leaving many to close permanently rather than during unprecedented times.
There are those like me who love the movie going experience; the long lines for overpriced popcorn, eating my feelings with a refill halfway through the previews, even a crying baby in the corner that shouldn’t be in a theater past 8pm are all part of classic experience. But if we become too accustom to staying at home and films become more and more accessible at our fingertips, a lot of theaters won’t be able to reopen and it will become harder and harder to get that experience. While drive-ins may be dominating the box office during the pandemic, they are few and far between and even more difficult to reach. If we aren’t careful, there may not be a theater near you for movies to come to.