Is cinema in trouble?

Hannah Jaeger, page editor

Though it’s far from the most pressing matter regarding the pandemic, COVID-19 may be causing drastic changes in the movie industry. In March, when Governor Tim Walz declared a state of emergency, offices switched to work-from-home structures, restaurants closed, and the movies began suffering as well. Theaters closed en masse, release dates have been pushed around nonstop, festivals were canceled, and productions have been halted. With theaters slowly starting to reopen, including AMCs at Southdale and Eden Prairie Center, how is movie-going going to pan out long term?

Its opening weekend, “Onward” topped the US box office with $39 million, an utterly abysmal number compared to the same weekend in 2019, during which “Captain Marvel” racked up over $153 million. Summer 2020 was supposed to be a big year for blockbusters: the stacked lineup including “F9,” the Fast and Furious series’ latest installment, Marvel’s “Black Widow,” and “No Time to Die,” Daniel Craig’s last hurrah as James Bond. Each film is now delayed until at least 2021, causing a significant drop in box office revenue—from $4.8 billion in summer 2019, to $1.8 billion in 2020. According to The Hollywood Reporter in March, the international box office was projected to lose $5 billion dollars in revenue. That number is now up to $7 billion, and the year is not yet over. 

In late August, theaters like Southdale AMC began to slowly reopen, playing classics such as “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Back to the Future.” Unfortunately, audiences began returning just as slowly. On September 3, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” was released in the US and bombed with a mere $20 million domestic gross revenue. As a film by an auteur director with a star-studded cast, grandiose practical effects, and warm critical reception, flopping was a sure sign of the times. After four weeks in theaters, “Tenet” is still at an embarrassing $45 million in the US. For reference, at this point in its release, Nolan’s last feature, “Dunkirk,” was sitting pretty at about $166 million. With this track record, perhaps the general public is just not ready to return to the cinema.

Cue the streaming services. If anyone is a fan of COVID, it would surely be executives at Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, who are no doubt rolling in the dough. “Trolls World Tour” set the stage for what was to come, shattering digital records by racking up a whopping $100 million in rentals. Netflix unsurprisingly had major success this summer, attracting all kinds of audiences with films like “The Old Guard,” “The Kissing Booth 2,” and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” However, not every home release has been a success. Disney released one of their summer blockbusters, the live-action “Mulan” on their streaming platform, but presumably lost audiences when they charged $29.99 to watch the film, on top of the seven dollars per month patrons are already paying. 

These changes seem temporary, but we could be seeing the next major shift in the entertainment industry. Experts say the effects of the pandemic are going to last in this industry for at least the next five years. In that time, are audiences going to get used to only having to walk to their couch for the latest Hollywood releases? Or will they miss the magic of buttery popcorn, ridiculously priced sodas, and the giddy feeling when the lights in the theater dim? We’re just going to have to answer this question the same way we’ve answered every other one we’ve had since all this began: who knows?