Holden Lombardo '23
It was April 2019. After months of anticipation, the long awaited Avengers: Endgame finally arrived in theaters. The film, which quickly became the highest-grossing of all time, sold over 90 million tickets as people from all over the world poured into movie theaters. It’s now December, two years later, and I haven’t been to a theater in nearly ten months. Throughout the course of 2020, theaters around the nation have shut down, both temporarily and permanently. This reflects not only their irrelevance amid a global pandemic, but also their gradual and inevitable downfall in a world dominated by streaming services. However, Wonder Woman 1984, this year’s biggest blockbuster and a paragon of the superhero genre that has become so popular, is set to release in theaters around the world on Christmas Day. There’s only one string attached: the moment the film debuts in theaters, it also releases on the new streaming service, HBO Max.
Wonder Woman isn’t alone in its new approach. Pixar’s newest film, Soul, will release on December 25th as well, but it will be exclusively available on Disney+ without any theatrical run. Additionally, Warner Bros. announced two weeks ago that their entire lineup of 2021 movies will undergo the “hybrid” model of simultaneous theatrical and streaming releases. This lineup includes The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, Dune, and Godzilla vs. Kong, all of which are blockbuster films that would usually provide necessary income to theaters. In the past year, many theaters have already permanently closed due to significant decrease in revenue. Even large theater-chains, such as AMC, are on the brink of bankruptcy. In June, AMC released a statement in which they expressed “substantial doubt” that they could stay in business past the pandemic. The new Warner Bros. deal only secures the seemingly inevitable fate of movie theaters around the world. However, the pandemic alone did not cause the switch from theatrical to streaming. In the past 15 years, the number of theaters in the United States has fallen nearly 30%, from 7,000 sites to just over 5,000. With each new innovation in the home media market, from VHS to DVD to, now, streaming services, the success of the movie theater industry is becoming more and more threatened. Yet, until now, theaters have remained viable despite these changes due to their exclusive right to new movies months before digital release (theaters generally receive movies around three months before they debut for home media). This whole system that kept theaters alive was upturned by the COVID-19 pandemic, as studios were forced to reconsider their traditional methods. While the decision to stream new releases may not bode well for theaters or their enthusiasts, the choice was ultimately made from necessity. Change is brewing throughout the entire country, and not only for movie theaters.
This winter will be incredibly different, there’s no denying it. With the holidays just around the corner, nothing seems quite right. The pandemic has turned our lives upside down, and all we can do now is try to hold on. We have plunged into a completely different world – a world of masks and social distancing, of Zoom meetings and online school, of quarantine and confinement, and of sudden, uninvited change. Perhaps the only certainty moving forward is the persistence of such change as we adapt and evolve to survive. While the fate of theaters is yet to be decided, they will likely never return to their previous lofty status which culminated in the explosive release of Avengers: Endgame two years ago. The streaming release of Wonder Woman 1984 this holiday season exemplifies the transformation necessary of the industry in order to survive: adapt or die. And so the world will change, and we will protest it or we will celebrate it, but it will change nonetheless.
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