Cinemas give swan song in the face of COVID-19

The unprecedented closures of movie theaters in the face of COVID-19 have prompted moviegoers to reflect upon how the current circumstances threaten movie theaters’ longevity. Some viewers cherish the memories they have of their cinematic experiences, and recall these moments with a sense of nostalgia.

There are very few movie-going experiences I’ll ever forget. Seeing Iron Man with my mom almost twelve years ago. The empty theater showing Isle of Dogs to just me and my friends. Finally finding that small indie theater that was playing Parasite. These are memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, and ones I hope to make more of in the coming years. However unlikely it may be.

During these past three weeks, Hollywood has been crippled by the COVID-19 virus. Back in March, I wrote about the cancelled April and May releases and how this could potentially ruin the film industry for the foreseeable future. Since then, my fears have only worsened. As of now, enough films have been delayed to effectively cancel the summer movie season, the most lucrative time of the year for cinemas. As expected, studios have begun to successfully adapt to the current situation through use of VOD and streaming services. Along with the unexpected cultural phenomena that was Tiger King, studios are beginning to see more and more that streaming is the way of the future.

But with the future comes unfortunate consequences. Specifically, the future of movie theaters. Just this past week the box office had an overall gross of just $3,855, a pathetic week compared to the $134 million gross pre-COVID-19 (according to BoxOfficeMojo). As if that weren’t bad enough, AMC Theaters, the largest theater chain in the US, is reportedly looking into filing for bankruptcy. This seems like the final nail in the coffin for cinemas across the country.

Now, it’s possible there won’t be an immediate switch to digital. Some industry experts just see limited options going forward. Sean Fennessey, the host of “The Big Picture” podcast on the Ringer, speculates that we’ll see smaller films from independent studios like A24 and Annapurna get pushed out in favor of big “tent-pole” releases from the major studios. These are big budget “event films” like Avengers or Star Wars that are guaranteed to make upwards of a billion dollars. 

So… that’s it. After 90 years of successful operation, cinemas across the country will begin to shut down. Oddly enough, it wasn’t streaming that killed it, nor was it internet piracy or home video. It was a virus. 

I’m going to miss movie theaters. The smell of cheap popcorn, the audience reactions to the film, and the unspoken sense of community felt when you leave the theater, knowing everybody has just experienced the same thing. I’m upset that I may never see a Paul Thomas Anderson film on the big screen. I’m upset I may never see one of my own movies on the big screen. But most of all, I’m going to miss having another unforgettable cinematic experience that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you cinema, you’ve treated me well. But now it’s time to say goodbye.