by Jason F. Koenigsberg

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This is how cinema ends. 2020 may indeed mark the end of the movie theater experience. For years I have been writing and talking about the end of going to the cinema to share the experience of watching a movie on a large canvas in a dark room. That collective experience shared with strangers has been jeopardized by a number of factors in recent years with home theaters improving their picture and sound quality, smart phones becoming more abundant and a necessity for people to constantly look at them, and the biggest threat was the surplus of streaming options to watch new and exclusive content on such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and most recently Disney Plus. But what I never considered was that it would be something else entirely that would kill movie theaters. This Coronavirus scare has halted all businesses, work, school, and even production of new content, forcing people to stay in their homes and watch what ever they can on their streaming channels. For the first time in my lifetime, movie theaters have been ordered to close from local, state, and federal authorities. Streaming did not kill movie theaters, although they certainly did damage to the experience by lowering attendance and forcing outlets to raise ticket prices, Coronavirus has killed the movie theater experience as we once knew it. The worst part is that our nation and world may have only scratched the surface with this Coronavirus pandemic and things may get worse before they get better. With no end in sight it is safe to assume that businesses including movie theaters will remain closed with people having more reason to stay at home and stream new content.

The first major blockbuster movie to cancel its premiere and move the release date was Daniel Craig’s long awaited final outing as 007 in the James Bond movie No Time to Die. Instead of coming out in April 2020, it was pushed back seven months and as of now is slated to come out November 25 of this year. I hate to sound cynical but with no end in sight and things getting worse from listening to the news. James Bond may not be seen in cinemas at all. The same could be said for dozens of other movies that followed 007’s decision and cancelled their premiere and pushed back their respective release days like A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, Fast and Furious 9, The New Mutants, and most recently Marvel’s Black Widow. More films are expected to push back their release dates or go straight to On Demand streaming services. At this rate Mulan will likely be on Disney Plus before ever screening at a theater. The biggest disappointment out of all of these titles being shuffled around is A Quiet Place Part II. If the sequel is anything like the first film then it has the potential to be one of the best cinema going experiences of the year. People that saw the 2018 Quiet Place in the comfort of their own home did not enjoy it on the same level as the audiences that saw it in a packed theater with everyone silently awaiting the next big scare. This is what people will be missing as we are forced to stream and not go out to a public forum. It is an intangible aspect of cinema that needs to stay as a vital part of the art form. 

Movie studios are being accommodating and making new releases available to watch at home. Universal announced that they will have all of their films that were recently in theaters such as The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt readily available to stream for the price of $19.99 for a 24 hour period. This sounds like a good deal. A large price for a rental but it could make up for the losses at the box office. Also, a family of four spending twenty dollars for a movie is cheaper than taking a family of four to the theater and purchasing four tickets, plus over priced refreshments if they so desire. That sounds more appealing to a lot of people to simply stay at home, rewind, fast forward, pause to go to the bathroom, put the subtitles on, or simply rewatch the movie again the next day. But the communal effect is gone. There have been films from the past decade that have illustrated the importance and power of watching a motion picture in the theater. The aforementioned A Quiet Place is one of the strongest recent examples but back in 2011 the movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture was The Artist, a silent film that won over critics, audiences, and Academy voters by showcasing the importance of the theater going experience. It was a throwback to the earliest days of film before “talkies” and because of that everyone I know who watched it after its theatrical run and saw it in the comfort of their own homes hated it. Even a film like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) was probably best experienced in the cinema for its breathtaking recreation of Queen’s live performances. I do not care how big your TV is or how amazing your surround sound system is for your home theater, sometimes the special effects need to be experienced on the big IMAX screen. Avatar (2009) was a transformative experience in cinemas and was nothing more than Ferngully (1992) on steroids when seen on home video. 

I am hopeful that all of these cancelled movies will see the light of day but with the instant gratification consumers demand and all of the streaming options available this is looking less and less likely. Americans are becoming more sedentary and this government enforced social distancing is creating more fears for people to stay indoors and away from strangers in a different way. Not just laziness, or a fear of crime or guns or being kidnapped, but fear of getting sick to the point that you will need to be quarantined and could die. Hopefully this will all end sooner rather than later and we can go back to our cinema going ways before people get too comfortable with this new social distancing that it becomes routine and they form new habits. Movie theater chains have already started to succumb to this trend with AMC providing more and more content for a cheaper price with their AMC On Demand app. I suspect more new movies will start to premiere on there for a premium price and they will share the cost as box office revenue with the studios. 

Let us hope and pray that this lifestyle of social distancing does not become the new normal. That movie theaters across the world can open their doors back up to patrons willing to pay for an experience that cannot be as easily sidetracked by cell phones and other distractions. For years I thought Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming powerhouses would result in the death of cinema, but I was wrong. It was Coronavirus that killed movie theaters. 

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