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Opinion: The film industry must be more willing to ditch theaters long-term
October 13, 2021
The film distribution industry is, quite frankly, a mess.
Between movies that are in theaters exclusively, movies that only play on streaming services, and films that premiere on both, it is hard to know where one is even supposed to watch a new movie.
For a while, people began to worry that since new movies were streaming at the same time as they played in theaters, people would stop coming to see them. This school of thought held true.
Several films like “The Suicide Squad” and “Reminiscience” flopped, after playing on a streaming service at the same time as they released.
There were legitimate concerns about whether or not theaters would stay open much longer. Films like “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” swapped release dates erratically, fearing that they would have to move backwards in order to get a decent haul.
However, something incredible happened.
“Free Guy” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” absolutely devoured the box office, bringing in $327 million and $402 million totals respectively.
Furthermore, the aforementioned “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” just recently opened to a domestic first weekend of $90 million, miraculously beating its 2018 predecessor’s opening.
With the box office thriving for big films once more, studios are once again scrambling to discover how they should release their films.
There is no easy solution to the problem. However, there is one more key factor in the decision.
Although larger film companies are still managing, small films are still struggling. Recent releases like “Dear Evan Hansen” have come in far below expectations, even while they play exclusively in theaters.
The reality of filmmaking is that while it is great to make money, it means more for a filmmaker for people to simply see the way in which they have expressed themselves.
An important component of this used to be the theater experience. Filmmakers such as Christoper Nolan were adamant about the necessity of films being released in theaters.
However, if no one is going to see the smaller films in theaters post-Covid, then advocating for them to be released only in theaters is counter-productive to the whole point of releasing a movie.
While it is certainly not an easy decision, it may be time to admit that the theater model is no longer relevant for many films. Large blockbusters will still be seen in them, and as such, should be released there.
However, smaller films that will not be seen in today’s theater environment should be moved to streaming services, at least in part. Making them easily accessible to people who prefer to stay at home can only bring in more viewers, and more viewers likely means more money for the studio.
More importantly, however, it gives filmmakers a chance to be heard, and film is nothing without the pictures being seen. Even if filmmakers can express themselves, there is no point if no one is around to listen to them.
If partially abandoning the theater experience is the best way to accomplish that basic goal, it must be done. The medium of film, as well as those who exercise it, must be seen.