I’ll come right out and say it, the Coronavirus Pandemic has officially changed the way we watched movies, likely forever. With cinemas across the globe practically shuttered, movie fans have had to resort to relying on streaming services, the internet and satellite as well as cable to get their entertainment fix.
But let’s face it, when it comes to trying to lower the rate of infection for something as deadly and serious as Covid-19, film and entertainment is not a high consideration for most of us. Yes, it proves to be a good distraction, especially for everyone in self-quarantine, but that’s all it really is – a good distractive outlet.
For film though, therein lies the problem. Social distancing has effectively neutered the cinema for the foreseeable future, until that is a cure is found for Covid-19. Hollywood has already accepted this fact, which is why this year’s summer blockbuster season is effectively dead. With big, highly-anticipated films like Black Widow, Mulan and Ghostbusters: Afterlife postponed to later this year, cinema will effectively not have a summer movie season for the first time since the mid-70s.
Most studios have thrown their hands up already, delaying their releases as well as productions of major films. Universal for instance has delayed Fast & Furious 9 all the way to 2021, hinting rather clairvoyantly that time frame next year as when things would truly get back to normal for the entertainment industry.
It is anyone’s guess if that comes true but a couple of things do come to mind –will there be enough cinemas left standing by this time next year and will enough audiences muster up the courage to overcome their fear of social distancing to go watch a movie. The answer is best provided through a scenario – if Covid-19 had reared its ugly head this time last year, then the world’s biggest movie, Avengers: Endgame would have earned absolutely fuck-all.
Therein lays the problem with most films these days, the expansive production budgets, which require a high return at the box-office to ensure profitability. This is of course totally workable when there is a cinema ecosystem combined with interested audiences in play, but take that out of the equation and there isn’t really much to ensure a good return on the dollar.
Streaming would be a good avenue, but Hollywood has to revise its strategy in some ways if it is to maintain a healthy profit. This equates to more modest productions that mirror the formula Blumhouse has managed to utilise quite successfully, i.e. smaller films, smaller budgets and good stories. However it is easier said than done as Hollywood is already pretty much set in their ways.
I can only relate this to the last time I went to the cinema, which was to watch the rather abysmal and un-entertaining Doctor Dolittle. Spending approximately RM36 for a pair of tickets, it was undoubtedly a waste of money. Operating an entertainment site like this, would have dictated that I spend more time in cinemas, but unfortunately few and far films in between have managed to capture my interest enough to warrant me parting with my hard earned cash for the price of an admission.
The ticket prices and expensive concession prices for food and drink are not the only deterrent. At the very core of it is people want to be entertained, but personally speaking, only a handful of films have managed to do so for me in the last year. I dare say, Avengers: Endgame fit that bill by not only entertaining but also serving as a cinematic event to remember for a long time to come.
But for a film to have those qualities today is akin to capturing lightning in a bottle or building a fan base and interest like what Marvel Studios have done over the course of a decade. It is a formula not easily replicated, a fact a tent pole franchise like Star Wars found out just recently.
For arguments sake, yes, Rise of Skywalker did great business – well over a billion dollars, which is nothing to scoff at. But based on its critical reception and lower box-office yield, it was decisively less successful than the two films that preceded it. I myself did not watch the end of the Skywalker saga culminate on the big screen, not for a lack of time, but rather a lack of interest in the new trilogy.
Having being granted an opportunity recently to watch it on digital download for virtually nothing, I was relief and glad that I didn’t waste time or money watching that mess of a film on the big screen. Now with the Coronavirus Pandemic spreading fear and terror across the world, in all likelihood it will be a while before we see another film as bad or average break the billion dollar barrier again.
In the months ahead, it will be interesting to see what the entertainment industry does to rebound against this setback. Streaming and video-on-demand may be an avenue to consider, which recently-released films such as Bloodshot, Pixar’s Onward and Birds of Prey have taken advantage off. Their success in the secondary film market may prove to be a viable option for studios to regroup revenues loss at the box-office for the moment.
However with mega budget films like Wonder Woman 1984 and No Time To Die requiring the tried and tested cinematic formula to guarantee success, that plan is perhaps, far from being a consideration. This is why adopting the waiting game seems to be the best bet for the moment, especially with a slate of films in the pipeline also facing production delays.
But as China has unfortunately proven, the reopening of cinemas may not receive the positive response from cinemagoers. A hard reality the Chinese entertainment industry witnessed for itself recently when 500 of its cinemas hardly received any customers.
It could be a similar scenario on a global scale the film industry will have to face and come to terms with for at least a year ahead, regardless how highly-anticipated or ‘big’ some of these blockbuster films or franchises may seem to be.