Creative industries against COVID-19: Ready, set, action
By Rose Gottschalk (TheLorian)
The smell of freshly popped popcorn wafting through the doors, the sounds of little pops as its popped, the bright lights illuminating the buttery goodness: these are all distant memories to us today.
One of the most notable industries that got hit by the coronavirus is the movie industry. Deemed as non-essential, theaters closed across the world and movie releases were delayed. Three huge factors impacted how movies are viewed and the industry is changing: the closing of theaters, the shift to remote work, and easy access to streaming services.
In mid-March, the theaters closed down, shutting down the viewing and potential revenue of many movies. One of which, Disney Pixar’s “Onward” was out for only a couple of weeks before this shut down. No one knew when theaters would be “safe” again, which impacted the box office reports and what it actually brought in. “Onward” only made a fraction of what a Disney movie would typically make in the short amount of time it was out. And since it was released in theaters, with some people seeing it, it was in a weird limbo compared to movies like “Mulan” or “Soul,” which had plans to open later in the year. This lead to the decision to let people buy “Onward” on digital, or wait for the release of it a few weeks later on Disney+. Many movies that were in theaters at the time of closing say a quick turnaround to being available on digital streaming.
This was a turn for many companies. Universal Studios decided to release “Trolls World Tour” for people to purchase digitally. In its first three weeks, it made $100 million, which is more than the original made in its domestic haul. Is this a sign that theaters are outdated, or that parents just needed a way to distract their kids while they were working from home? Many companies weighed in on the thought that maybe digital releases could work, but only for certain movies. Big name movies like “Black Widow” and “F9” will still make money in theaters, but smaller movies may bring in more revenue if seen on digital release only.
A huge announcement over the summer was that not only was the Broadway recording of “Hamilton” getting pushed up a year, it would be released on Disney+ for anyone to view. This was a major blow to potential revenue. There wouldn’t be a box office revenue, and it couldn’t bring in money if it was released digitally. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of the musical and who stared as Alexander Hamilton in the opening run, decided with Bob Iger, Disney CEO, that an early release, at that time, was what the country needed, more than a potential profit for themselves.
Speaking of Disney, they decided to skip the theatrical release of “Mulan” and release it to a premium version of Disney+, costing viewers an additional $29.99. This is different to other digital releases, where viewers paid a one-time payment and owned the movie. There was a viewing in China of “Mulan” which showed that it isn’t doing quite as good as predicted. It has received $40 million in China, which doesn’t compete well with other Disney remakes. Another factor in this could be the boycotting people have set up, due to the lead actress, Yifei Liu, supporting Hong Kong police or it being filmed where there is believed to be Muslim internment camps. Both have brought bad light onto the movie and stopped people from purchasing and viewing the movie.
Currently, movie theaters are open again, but not many new movies are being released. “Tenet” hit theaters, and hit the $300 million mark at the beginning of Oct. Warner Bros. decided the theatrical release was the best option for the movie, giving it the best shot to make the most money possible. With a budget of $200 million, this isn’t the desired outcome. On Oct. 4, it was shown that “Hocus Pocus,” the 1993 cult classic that was re-released for Halloween, made $1.9 million in theaters, compared to the $2.7million “Tenet” made for the first weekend this month.
Drive-in theaters did make a comeback over the summer. On the verge of closing, the virus allowed the positives of the drive in to create a safe environment. Cars had to be distanced, and it was the customers own controlled environment that they viewed the movie from. This was good for owners of these places: from 1958, where there were more than 4000 drive in theaters, to this past year, where only 305 remain, the industry did need this spike in viewers.
So, although movie theaters aren’t doing well and face possible closures across the globe, streaming services are doing well. They have seen early releases, whether for streaming or purchase, and it has helped with bringing in some revenue (Disney+ did see a small spike in subscriptions when “Hamilton” was announced). Huge movies with major money potential won’t see theaters until next year, and that’s at the earliest. 2020 will be the first year in ten years that there won’t be a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, which fans aren’t excited about. Companies have to strategize and determine the best way to release a movie that won’t bankrupt them, but will still supply an income.
When blockbuster’s begin hitting theaters again, make sure you catch at least one movie. Splurge and buy that huge tub of popcorn: the industry will be thankful for it.