Film industry innovations without theaters brings their success into question

     Before COVID-19, rising senior Sarah Patel went to the theaters to watch “Jumanji: The Next Level” with a group of friends. At the time, if someone wanted to see a new blockbuster movie they had to go to the theater, but ever since then, moviegoers no longer have to go out to see the newest movie; instead, they can watch blockbusters in their own home the day of release. “It’s probably not something I’d consider doing now. Just ’cause, eh, I’ll stay home and watch it,” Patel said.

     Patel isn’t alone. According to Michael Sandy, general manager at Regal Village Park, Regal, as of June, the theater is yet to reach pre-pandemic attendance numbers. Regal reopened in April after remaining closed throughout most of 2020 and 2021, excluding a short re-opening around the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” after which Regal closed again. “As studios determined the best release date for their movies, there was an inconsistency in the release schedule with most of the major titles moving into 2021. Without a solid release schedule, we could not operate profitably,” Sandy said.

     When Regal re-opened in April, according to Sandy, they did so with a more consistent schedule including big movies like “Black Widow”, “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Cruella” on the horizon. Sandy said the experience of going into a theater is something which would keep customers coming even if they have the choice of watching new movies at home, but Patel wasn’t as convinced.

     “As a lot of things (that) went through the pandemic, people are more inclined to stay home now that everything is online and I can watch the movie the day of on Disney+ or whatever and I don’t have to go through going out,” she said. She added that theaters had become less prominent than they were before the pandemic due to the choice of watching new movies at home. 

     Rising senior Ilvia Acosta also said she hadn’t gone to the movies recently, adding that nothing interesting had come out. Though she said both streaming and theater could coexist. “It’s the experience you wanna have, going to the movie theater is a fun thing, if you’re going with friends or just family. But it can also be fun if you’re having a movie day at home. So (it’s) just depending on what I was feeling that day.” 

     Both did agree there was something unique about going to the theater, Patel called it an event, saying going to the theater gave a night out a planned activity. “It just gives you something to do,” Patel said.

     Acosta, however, focused more on the experience as a whole. “If you’re going to the movie theater you’re going with people that you don’t know and you’re experiencing something for the first time; I think that adds a little bit to it.” This is something Sandy spoke on when discussing “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train”, an anime film that made 47 million dollars domestically at the box office when it released in April, becoming the highest grossing film for four weeks according to Box Office Mojo, despite being a foreign R rated animated film. 

     In the coming months, studios are releasing big movies like “Shang-Chi” and “Dune”, which, in earlier years, would’ve guaranteed high ticket sales at theaters. But with simultaneous streaming releases, that’s no longer a surefire bet.

     Patel said, “(Theaters) have become a little less prominent than they were because they made it more accessible at home and it eliminates the need to leave and watch it in theaters.”