written by: ben thomson
In 2019 the big movie event of the summer was undoubtedly Avenger’s: Endgame, a massive three-hour superhero epic. In 2020, the big movie event of the year was a four-year-old Hamilton performance.
The future of Hollywood has never been more uncertain than it is right now. Nearly six months after theaters shut down, major studios have been forced to rethink their release strategy and adapt to the new world ushered in by COVID-19.
So far, the film industry has been struggling to see past the short term, underestimating how long the pandemic will actually last. Look no further than Warner Bros.’ handling of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.
Warner Bros. initially refused to delay the film, confident it would still be profitable during a pandemic. Then, a few days before the film was supposed to come out, Warner Bros. pushed the release back two weeks.
This would happen two more times before Tenet was officially delayed indefinitely.
While at first glance cases like Tenet are a bad look for Hollywood, there’s not much else they can do. It’s important to remember how much money these summer releases need to make in order to be profitable.
A movie like Tenet needs to make at least $800 million to make back its budget of $200 million (plus however much was spent on marketing).
So, while it’s easy to say studios should release to streaming services, in reality it would be a financially suicidal move that could have disastrous effects. And the ones that are taking that chance are doing so at the risk of alienating their audiences.
Disney, for instance, faced harsh criticism when it announced Mulan would be on Disney+ for a fee of $30, a model that, on paper, is successful and would make up for the lost sales that a digital release usually comes with. But if nobody’s willing to buy, the model isn’t going to work.
So, what’s the solution? That’s difficult to answer.
At the moment, Tenet is releasing later this month everywhere but the United States. Is this move potentially profitable? Possibly. Are there still devastating risks that will determine the future of Warner Bros.? Absolutely.
The big one is internet piracy. Suppose the yanks get their hands on a Canadian bootleg of Tenet before it even gets a chance to release in the U.S. Why should they wait for theaters to reopen if they can just watch the movie for free?
Sure, theaters are beginning to open back up, but how long is that going to last? Even if its current model works, a theater with limited capacity means fewer tickets will be sold. It’s a game of trial and error, and the stakes have never been higher.
For now, Hollywood’s future is up in the air. Nobody can say for sure what direction the industry will choose.
The only real winner of 2020 is going to be Netflix, but who knows how much of a ripple effect that’ll have through Hollywood and the rest of the film industry.
At the very least it’s comforting to know that at least one studio will be around to release movies.
At this point I don’t care who makes the movie and where they decide to make it available. As long as they’re being made, I think we’ll be okay.