The series of lockdowns at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of things. Restaurants, gyms, grocery stores – public places had gone from a mundane setting for mindless wandering to an anxiety-provoking battlefield. As theaters closed, the film industry was left stunned, unsure how it would keep audiences interested in films now that theaters were closed for the unpredictable future. Have movies been resigned to internet platforms forever? Could cinemas one day reopen to their full potential? Was it the death of cinema?
These fears were a little dramatic but not totally unfounded. The popularity of movie theaters has steadily declined for many reasons, mainly because ticket prices have become incredibly expensive and streaming services have offered a much cheaper alternative for most people. However, some argue that there is no replacing the cinematic experience. No matter how expensive popcorn gets or how uncomfortable it is to sit in a leather recliner for a three hour movie, there will always be an audience that wants to experience cinematic spectacles. on the big screen.
When the pandemic hit and movie theaters were closed for long periods, people shuddered to see release dates pushed back indefinitely and blockbuster movies released straight to streaming platforms. It was a new precedent that seemed to seal the cinema’s coffin. The issues that had been setting the cinema back for years have only been amplified by the growing number of people who would rather stay home and watch a Marvel movie on their couch.
Fast forward to 2022, when most movie theaters have returned to normal operating procedures and film is still fresh and alive. This was likely due in large part to attitudes of excitement as lockdowns were lifted across the country. People were just missing going to the theater, and with the promise of blockbuster movies waiting outside the cinema doors, people were eager to get back. Regardless of ever-increasing ticket prices, compounded by COVID-related inflation, audiences have returned to the cinema in droves.
What films made this renaissance of cinema possible? Much of this can be attributed to the hugely popular trend of comic book adaptations that have had a firm grip on movie audiences since Marvel’s “Avengers” was released in 2012. Among the ten highest-grossing movies of 2021 , five of them were Marvel movies, even though the release of “Black Widow” (#4) was discontinued by theaters closing in late 2020. The other four were “Eternals” (#6), “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (#3), “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (#2) and specifically, “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” This blockbuster Marvel title blew Shang-Chi out of the water, earning over $570 million at the domestic box office in 2021 alone. of this amount.
It’s still quite debatable whether the success of superhero movies represents the bread and butter of cinema as a whole. Many see them as shallow money grabs that don’t propel the industry significantly. Even for cynics, movie theaters have had a remarkable few years. Inventive movies like “Dune,” “Death on the Nile,” and “House of Gucci” have done remarkably well at the box office. Likewise, horror films like ‘A Quiet Place Part II’, ‘Halloween Kills’ and ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ have found their niche success in theaters. Children’s films like “Encanto” and creative comedies like “Free Guy” show a bright future for cinema and have managed to attract audiences to cinemas despite the obstacles that stood in their way.
This trend doesn’t mean the waning interest in movie theaters is going away, but it might recontextualize the implications. Movies are still moving to streaming platforms at accelerated rates, causing people to sit at home and wait for blockbusters to hit Hulu or HBO Max instead of paying a small fortune for the cinematic experience. Still, there will always be a desire to experience certain shows on the big screen. Audiences of Marvel and DC films have created a very unique culture around viewing these films on opening night with a room full of their fellow fans. Comic book movies, though shunned by the movie industry as a whole, might be the only thing to save him.
Traditional films don’t perform as well in this area, especially not when compared to their adaptive counterparts. Cinema, as we understand it, might have to start moving away from cinema itself. The format of 90-minute dramas as experienced in a movie theater turns into something else.
TV shows and limited series like “Euphoria” and “The End of the F**king World” are excellent examples. These are artistic expressions of unique new scenarios, all of which are presented from a smaller screen. In the past, TV wasn’t where people went to see “movies” – sitcoms and reality shows took up most of cable’s runtime, and real scripts were taped for the theater movies. As the line between film and TV blurs, these streaming platforms could provide an accessible haven for films that feel overshadowed by a movie theater full of superheroes, sequels and film adaptations.
All in all, things are looking bright for the cinema. The COVID-19 lockdowns haven’t been a substantial barrier for creators dedicated to crafting innovative and impactful storylines for the big screen. However, due to the digital age, the landscape of traditional cinema is changing. This change probably won’t completely kill theaters, but it could lead to a significant change in how they look. Maybe one day in the future, cinemas will only offer sequels to “Justice League” and the 100th installment of a new MCU movie, and thrilling films like “Fresh” will retain their place on more intimate streaming platforms. Either way, the film industry is more than capable of adapting to these rapidly changing expectations.