Movies Return to Theaters, but Will They Stay?

Olivia Rhee, Staff Writer

Holding a lightsaber in one hand, and an extra large bag of popcorn in the other, thousands of Star Wars fans eagerly enter the theaters, excited to experience the thrill of riding alongside Han Solo, witness the assembly of storm troopers, and meet the new cast of the 2015 movie premier of “The Force Awakens.” Sitting back in reclining chairs, the pitch black room of darkness suddenly blasts the Star Wars theme song, as everyone cheers. Watching Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker return to the big screens was a memorable experience for many.  Some wonder whether events like these will return, as the country faces major changes from the pandemic. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, theaters were forced to shut down, and many movie fans are missing these major movie premieres. After five months of empty theaters, popular cinema chains announced their plans to reopen to the public as COVID-19 cases drop; however, movie theaters may receive smaller crowds than they hope, as many producers and studios decide to release their films through online streaming rather than in theaters. In the new-normal, post COVID pandemic, the entertainment industry may see a permanent shift away from traditional theaters.

Hundreds of theaters are struggling to survive during the pandemic’s shelter-in-place protocols. According to a CNBC report, “In recent days all of the major cinema chains released quarterly results that showed mounting losses as nearly 100% of revenue was wiped out as auditoriums sat vacant for months on end.” 

Although cinema debt has become a global issue, the unfortunate situation hits local theaters, including the Walnut Creek theater. “Walnut Creek, long proud of supporting the arts by operating one of the few city-run theater companies in the country, has laid off Michael Butler, the theater’s acclaimed artistic director, as the city struggles to overcome a $12 million deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Mercury News said in an article regarding the drastic toll of COVID-19 on Walnut Creek. 

In dire need of support, theaters plan to create enticing deals to the public. Thursday, Aug. 20, over 100 AMC became the first theaters to reopen; they planned to sell 15 cent tickets for blockbuster films “Black Panther,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Back to the Future,” to celebrate AMC’s 100th anniversary.  Additionally, theaters are using technology to shift the moviegoing experience by implementing touchless ticket sales and concessions through digital apps. 

While many are very excited about plans to reopen movie theaters, others see streaming new movies from home as a better option. “I would rather stream new movies at home because I will probably be more comfortable at home. Also, I wouldn’t want any unnecessary risk that would come with going to the theatre,” junior Laura Boifort said. “I wouldn’t get to eat snacks at a movie theatre. If you can’t eat popcorn in a theatre what is the point!” 

In lieu of movie premieres, online streaming apps, including Disney Plus and Netflix, released films to recoup their costs for movies that were scheduled to launch during the pandemic. Production companies have created alternatives to red carpet premieres, by using webcasts to showcase actors, directors, and producers, and to promote the movie overall. Moreover, social media apps like Netflix Party have allowed groups to enjoy films together from remote locations. 

This shift in movie-going habits will take a major toll on theaters. Rich Greenfield, the founder of Lightshed Partners media research firm, reported on Aug. 6, Consumer interest in moviegoing will be meaningfully reduced. Moviegoing will not disappear, but there will not be enough demand (nor supply of content) to support 40,000+ screens in the U.S.”

While it is unclear if the public will ever return back to post-pandemic movie experiences, like the unforgettable Star Wars premiere, movie theaters will continue to have its place in the entertainment world. With isolation taking a toll on people, there is a pent up demand for theater-going. It may take a Star Wars-like phenomenon to bring back theater-going experiences as we know it.