The future of the movie theater business is the topic of hot conversation because the COVID-19 pandemic has put into question just how viable exhibition will be as movie theaters nationwide remain shuttered and studios have pursued other options to release their films. Warner Bros. still has the industry reeling with their decision to release all seventeen of their 2021 films on their HBO Max streaming service on the same day they debut in theaters. Universal Pictures has made deals with AMC and Cinemark to shrink the theatrical and streaming window and one has to believe that others won’t be too far behind. Despite the future looking murky at best, director Steven Soderberg has put in his two cents on the matter and he believes that the movie theater business is here to stay.
During an interview with “The Daily Beast“, Soderbergh was asked if current developments meant that movie theaters would be going extinct and he doesn’t seem to think so:
“No. Not at all. It’s just a reaction to an ecomonic reality that I think everybody is going to have to acknowledge pretty soon, which is that even with a vaccine, the theatrical movie business won’t be robust enough in 2021 to justify the amount of P&A you need to spend to put a movie into wide release. There’s no scenario in which a theater that is 50 percent full, or at least can’t be made 100 percent full, is a viable paradigm to put out a movie in. But that will change. We will reach a point where anybody who wants to go to a movie will feel safe going to a movie.”
Soderbergh’s response is optimistic but it also takes a long-term view of the film industry into consideration. Even he believes that 2021 won’t be the year to turn this all around but he also seems hopeful that things will get better and moviegoers will feel safe going to the movies again. He doesn’t seem convinced that the next few months along will decide the fate of the theatrical experience. At the end of the day, Soderbergh believes that the profits that can be made from a movie that makes a killing at the box office are way too robust for studios to fully give up on the theatrical model:
“I think somebody sat down and did a very clear-eyed analysis of what [the current global medical emergency] is going to do in the next year, even with a potential vaccine, and said, I don’t see this as being workable in 2021. Because let’s be clear: there is no bonanza in the entertainment industry that is the equivalent of a movie that grosses a billion dollars or more theatrically. That is the holy grail. So the theatrical business is not going away. There are too many companies that have invested too much money in the prospect of putting out a movie that blows up in theaters-there’s nothing like it. It’s all going to come back. But I think Warners is saying: not as soon as you think.”
I think Soderbergh does have a point that these massive tentpole releases bring in too much money for studios to completely abandon movie theaters. It’s my opinion that the future is going to be a hybrid of the two models moving forward. I feel like lower-tier releases will be considered more strongly for streaming while event films will still be touted for a big-screen release. That seems like the new normal we’re moving in on as studios have been forced to realize a one size fits all approach won’t necessarily work moving forward.
Do YOU agree with Soderbergh’s assessment about the future of movie theaters?