A dark empty room with a silver screen is the last place people are choosing to immerse themselves into the fantasy of film.
This once collective experience has now been on the decline even before the pandemic, but now moviegoing morale is at an all-time low. Instead of watching movies on a large screen with captivating sound, mesmerizing visuals, and buttery popcorn people are choosing to watch from the comfort of their own homes.
The idea of streaming services was not a topic of discussion until the rise of Netflix and Hulu. Now, major media conglomerates such as Disney, Paramount, and Warner Media are following the trend by creating their very own streaming platforms. In June of 2020, roughly 36% of people prefer to watch movies from a streaming service while only 14% prefer to watch from a theater. Still Netflix reigns supreme in having the largest audience outreach to their platform; however, companies like HBO Max are going the extra mile to ensure people choose their platform for specifically movie watching.
At the start of the pandemic, HBO Max secured a deal with WarnerBros. giving them access to stream Hollywood’s most recent blockbuster films of that year. This gave the streaming platform the opportunity to share movies such as Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), Godzilla Vs. Kong (2021), and In the Heights (2021). This deal changed the trajectory of movie watching. Now, instead of audiences having to wait months for the most recent blockbuster to be released, it can be just a click away. Access to movies is now faster than ever before.
Undoubtedly, with the pandemic the decline of people going to the theaters was inevitable. According to AMC, in the year 2019 the average theater attendance ranged around 356 million tickets. In contrast, theater attendance dropped down to a drastic 75.19 million in 2020. While this is understandable, it was predicted that movie attendance would increase the next year due to mask mandates and vaccinations. However, that was far from the case. According to AMC’s ticket sales, attendance only increased by 53.36 million from the previous year.
The demand for fast and easy access to the most recent and popular media is contributing to the demise of movie theaters. Instead of having audiences wait in line at the concessions to get their popcorn and candy, people can just open their pantry. Instead of sitting through 15 minutes of trailers for upcoming movies, people can skip that experience and look it up online. Instead of experiencing a film in real time, people have the option to pause, rewind, or fast forward.
Streaming services grant people a power they do not have in a movie theater. The experience is no longer for the collective, but the individual. Watching a movie at a theater forces people to be present in real time. This allows only authentic and genuine reactions to come out from audiences. Streaming services, however, disrupt that. The way movies are watched and perceived is now in control of the viewer and not those making the films.
I asked average movie theater goer Samantha Flores why she believes people have stopped going to the movie theaters, she states, “I think a lot of it has to do with not having control. When you go out you have to deal with the public and not having the luxury to hit pause or play.”
Before, movies were made to be shown on the big silver screen. Now, movie makers must consider that what might illustrate well on a huge screen, might not translate to the average flat screen TV. A prime example of this is the release of Sci Fi fantasy film Dune (2021). Director Denis Villeneuve told Forbes magazine that to experience the film to its fullest, it must be seen in theaters. Villeneuve describes watching this film as a physical experience and watching it from a TV screen can hinder that. Unfortunately, due to the secured deal between Warner Bros. and HBO Max, Dune (2021) was released a day before the initial global distribution.
The once immersive and massive experience of watching cinema on a silver screen is now being subjected to a 40-inch flat screen TV. Movies as big as Dune (2021) or Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) are made to be seen on the big screen, streaming services, however, have the potential to undermine and devalue the hard work that goes into cinema.
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