Emma Polen | Layout Editor
Sept. 9, 2021
Last weekend, I went to see “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” at my local AMC theater. After over a year of conveniently streaming new movies from my TV, my movie theater experience did not encourage me to go back to public theaters.
Covid-19 permanently changed the way new movies were released. Before March 2020, it was very rare that new movies would be available on streaming platforms on the same date they were released in theaters. Since last year, though, movie patrons had very little reason to visit a theater while streaming services provided all new releases on their platforms.
Movie theater shut-downs forced entertainment companies to reevaluate the market. For some studios, this has meant major losses in the box office. For others, like Disney, it provided an opportunity to test alternative release methods. Disney+ was launched in November 2019 — just a few months before Covid-19 related shutdowns. Subscribers can skip the wait and watch new movies for $30 with premiere access. Even with the hefty price tag, streaming is still more convenient than driving to watch a new release in theaters.
Recall that in March of 2020, “Trolls World Tour” was advertised to be released in theaters. When Covid-19 forced theaters to close, Universal Studios moved the movie’s release to digital-only premiere access.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Trolls World Tour” made about $100 million off of digital rentals alone. For comparison, the original Trolls movie earned about $150 million in total box office sales, according to boxofficemojo.com, a reliable box office tracker.
While these numbers seem significantly different, Wall Street Journal said, “They [studios] retain about 80% of the rental or purchase fee — compared with about 50% of box-office sales.” So my question is: Why aren’t more studios changing the way they release movies?
According to The Hollywood Reporter, AMC and Warner Bros. struck a deal so that all new movies released in 2022 will be exclusively available at AMC theaters for the first 45 days, and then they will move to Warner Bros.’ streaming platform HBO Max.
While 45 days sounds like a long time, The Hollywood Reporter noted that many theaters had a hold on new movies for 90 days before releases to any other platform pre-pandemic. At least this is promising: It means that studios have cut that anticipatory new movie wait in half.
In addition to the availability of new movies on online streaming services, there are a few factors of watching at home that I took for granted until visiting the theater last week.
First of all, as someone with a small bladder, I appreciate my friends pausing the movie so that I can run to the bathroom. Every time I leave a movie, something important happens.
Secondly, film volume is notoriously inconsistent. One minute you can barely hear what a character is saying, and the next you are blasted out of your seat by a “Rocky” music montage.
The volume is finicky at both a movie theater and at home, but at least with my own remote I can turn the sound down on a crazy Michael Bay explosion or I might even rewind if I miss someone’s dialogue.
The third reason watching movies in a theater has lost its charm since the pandemic is the awkwardness of strangers. How do I know the person coughing next to me is just choking on popcorn and doesn’t have Covid-19?
At home, I also take for granted the free cost of living. Coming from a large family, the cost for all of us to go to the movies is $87.50. Sitting in my parents’ living room is absolutely free.
For some families, the theater experience might be worth it. For my family, with little children who cannot sit still, are constantly confusing the plotline and whisper-shouting, “What is actually happening?” and altogether act like nuisances regardless of whether we see a movie in a theater or at home, it’s not worth the money.
The cost of tickets is not the only shudder-inducing purchase at the movies. I like having something to crunch while viewing a film, but I don’t want to pay $6 for a popcorn box. I also like to have water with me (hence the frequent bathroom breaks) but I like when it’s free at my house; I don’t like having to pay $4 for cold water.
I understand that now more than ever movie theaters need to make a profit. Regardless, $12.50 is a lot to just sit in public for over two hours, especially if they want to charge an additional $10 for sustenance during the production.
Another reason traditional theaters are going out of style is the increasing availability of home theaters to everyday people.
This summer it was almost impossible to get my hands on a nice projector because of the high demand. While most 4K-HD quality systems are a little pricey, movie-watchers were desperately bored this summer and they had stimulus checks to spend. When I finally received my projector in the mail, it became apparent why they became popular during the pandemic.
Projectors can be set up outside, providing a Covid-19-safe environment for inviting friends over and hanging out together. Plus, the picture and sound quality of a movie played on a projector is surprisingly fantastic.
And instead of having to sit scarily close to strangers chowing down on nachos, I get to sit with my friends for free on the comfort of my own lawn.