What once was a bright place full of laughter, joy, passions, and emotions, has now turned into a dark and desolate land. No, this isn’t the premise of some new horror film – I’m talking about movie theatres.
Cinemas are amongst the industries that took the most brutal hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown after lockdown, they were continuously forced to shut down business in order to reduce the spread of the virus, keeping people safe but putting theatres and movie makers in great danger. So much so that even when harsher restrictions began getting lifted a few months back and cinemas were allowed to reopen, the theatres that were left could be counted on one hand – the majority had ultimately gone belly-up long before.
In a nutshell, movie theatres (the ones that were left) desperately needed something that would bring people back into their doors, and convince them that a trip to the cinema can be worth the drive sometimes. And this ‘knight in shining armor’ turned out to be no other than the multi-million dollar franchise, Marvel.
What happened to movie theatres?
What happened to movie theatres due to the pandemic is a sad but predictable tale. Everywhere in the world, governments were ordering lockdowns and shutting down all businesses that were deemed as not necessary, and movie theatres did not fit the bill. And being closed (obviously) equals no clients, which means no money, which results in being closed… forever. That is – going bankrupt, which is what happened to most theatres.
And even after things appeared to be more in the clear than before COVID-19-wise in 2021, cinemas still weren’t truly out of the woods. The few theatres that managed to survive the lockdowns and reopen, were now facing one of the biggest long-lasting problems of the pandemic – the lingering fear. In fact, many moviegoers stated that they would feel unsafe going back to theatres – 38% of the general public, and 56% of the over-50 crowd. Meaning that even cinemas that were able to stay afloat after the lockdowns were still risking losing money and going bankrupt.
And it doesn’t matter that studies show theatres (given their high ceilings and good ventilation systems) are actually quite safe environments, or that the activities one does at the movies (namely, watching a movie in silence, usually with their mask on) don’t fuel the spread of the virus – people are still afraid.
To make matters worse, movie theatres were already seeing a slight drop in the number of moviegoers long before COVID-19 had hit and turned everyone’s life upside down. Going to the cinema is an expensive and stressful experience that simply doesn’t seem necessary given the abundance of streaming platforms that are offered nowadays, such as Netflix and Hulu. After all, why would you spend €10-15 to watch a movie in a dirty unfamiliar place packed with strangers, when you could be watching the exact same film from the comfort of your own sofa for way less (or even for nothing)?
Basically, movie theatres appeared to be dead and gone already long ago, and the pandemic was simply the last nail in the coffin!
Basically, movie theatres appeared to be dead and gone already long ago, and the pandemic was simply the last nail in the coffin! But what the lockdowns have made abundantly clear is that there are some movies that are worth the trip to the theatre – even though the plot is the same, watching some films in your living room rather than on a big screen with an appropriate sound system is simply different…
Marvel and the cinema renaissance
… and an example of that is *any* movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A Marvel film is easy to spot – flashy colors, impressive CGI and gorgeous sceneries, that can easily impress you whether you’re watching it on your laptop or on a giant Imax. But as any die hard fan of the franchise would tell you – to truly appreciate an MCU movie and be left in awe by its design, you have to watch it on the Big Screen.
Marvel heard that loud and clear, and began wondering whether they could somehow use that to their advantage. And as it turned out – yes, they could! How? Well, that’s simple – they just made their two biggest movies of 2021 (Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings and Spider-Man: No Way Home) available in-theaters only for the first week. This move was going to benefit Marvel greatly if successful, since movie tickets are ultimately way more fruitful for them, compared to the revenue they’d get from streaming services. After all, if four friends want to see a Marvel movie together at home, they can do so on Disney+ using one subscription. Whereas, if they want to see it together in theatres, they have to pay for four tickets – that’s over four times as much money!
Nevertheless, despite Marvel’s known fame and popularity, that move was not certain to be successful – given the low percentages of people willing to return to theatres, the outcome of Marvel’s strategy was a bit of a coin toss. But luckily for them, the coin landed on the winning side.
The films both scored record-breaking grosses – Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings earned $75.4 million in U.S. cinemas over its first three days, and Spider-Man: No Way Home scored a whopping $260M in North America over its opening weekend.
That’s good news for Marvel, as they saw their sales skyrocketing again. But the biggest sigh of relief came from movie theatres, since after passing several months in the dark due to the pandemic, they were beginning to see a glimpse of hope.
But does that mean movie theatres are no longer in danger? Sadly, the answer is no.
But does that mean movie theatres are no longer in danger? Sadly, the answer is no. We are still in the midst of a pandemic, and people continue to be afraid to go to events where they know it’s going to be crowded. And it’s not like Marvel movies (or other Blockbusters) drop every week – they can’t always be there to save theatres from precipitating into a slump!
Theatres need more support from movie distributors, as offering movies which are not (yet) available online has proven to be their saving grace. They ought to once again offer the public something they can’t find at home, week after week. But most importantly, they need to convince people they’re not some COVID-19 hotbed, and try to bring the people back into their doors. Given how deep fear runs nowadays, that’s not a job for just anyone – but fortunately for movie theatres, Marvel has enough superheroes to spare!
Cover: Nathan Engel
Edited by: Alexandra Ciociu