top of page

Movie theaters near the possibility of becoming obsolete


     The sudden development of the COVID-19 pandemic has upended society on a global scale. In nearly every country across the planet, major aspects of daily life have been affected or completely put on hold, such as socialization, education, careers, and most importantly, health. One of its most unique effects, however, lies outside of these mainstream concerns in a completely separate industry: entertainment.

     At first glance, it may seem obvious why this is so. Filming for movies and TV shows obviously has to be put on hold, theatre performances have to be cancelled, and movie release dates are being endlessly postponed. But all of these are temporary, right? Once the pandemic ends, the entertainment industry can return to normal. Well… mostly.

     Allow me to explain. One of the many types of businesses that has been closed throughout this year is the ever-exciting

Graphic by William Becker

movie theater. Because of social distancing requirements and general safety issues, putting a large group of people in a crowded room for two hours is frowned upon to say the least, so most theaters have been shut down since the spring. That of course left many film production companies with limited options in terms of how to get their films to an audience while still generating income. So, they turned to the next best option: online streaming services.

     One of the first movies to bravely venture away from the big screen and into the digital world was Universal’s animated family film “Trolls World Tour,” which was released for digital rental on Apr. 10, 2020. While the story was relatively unremarkable in its own right, it may yet become one of the most significant films of the twenty-first century. The reason is rather simple: it made quite a lot of money.

     Within the first three weeks of its digital release, “Trolls World Tour” made nearly $100 million in online rentals, more than its predecessor “Trolls” did during its entire theatrical release in the U.S. This came as quite a surprise for everybody, including Universal Pictures. Up until now, it’s been a staple of the film industry to release movies in theaters for a few months before allowing them to be sold on DVD or streamed online. Movies that bypass theaters, known as direct-to-video movies, are generally considered to be of poor quality, as they rarely find success. But with the release of “Trolls World Tour,” it is apparent that times are changing. Suddenly, online releases are now a viable option for major production companies.

     This begs a serious question: does that make movie theaters obsolete? If a production company can release a movie online which is certainly cheaper for them, and earn just as much (or potentially more) in sales, then moving away from theater releases seems like it may be the most cost-effective method. So is the movie theater going to start moving in the direction of the drive-in theater, considered obsolete and phased out of the entertainment industry? Unfortunately, that question is difficult to answer for the time being.

     There are other things to consider, however, when thinking about those options. To me, nothing can truly top seeing a movie on the big screen for the first time. Yes, it is more expensive and time-consuming than watching it from home, but the experience is part of what you pay for. It isn’t a true movie premiere without the popcorn and half-hour of previews, and that’s just a straight fact. Unfortunately, that argument may not be enough for major companies, as income and quality are usually their greatest concern when it comes to their productions. In comparison, the viewing situation must seem rather trivial.

     In the end, I suppose only time and a lot of waiting will shed light on the fate of the lowly movie theater. Personally, I think they’re here to stay, mainly because they’re such an important facet of the everyday social life. Going to the movies is practically second nature when you’re bored on a quiet weekend and don’t have a whole lot to do. We do, however, have to move with the times. From now on, it appears most production companies will release their movies online, but thankfully will continue to release them in theaters at the same time. While that is no small change, at least it would mean that the experience of buttery popcorn, a dark room and a fun movie is hopefully here to stay.

bottom of page