Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Change How We Go to the Movies?


In a non-pandemic world, we would have already seen Daniel Craig’s final “James Bond” film, and we’d be gearing up for a date night to see the “Wonder Woman” prequel this summer.

But we're living in a world where the coronavirus pandemic is affecting every part of our everyday lives including shutting down movie theaters as stay-at-home measures are implemented.

The closure of movie theaters forced studios to reschedule highly-anticipated premieres to either later in the year or 2021. Some studios bypassed the theater experience altogether to release them on-demand.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the novel virus, the fate of movie theaters is also up in the air as movie-lovers wonder when they’ll finally be able to plan a movie night with friends and loved ones again.

While many studios remain hopeful that the “summer movie” can be salvaged by leaving three huge blockbusters on the calendar throughout the summer months – Christopher Nolan's thriller “Tenet” (July 17), Disney's live-action “Mulan” (July 24) and “Wonder Woman 1984" (Aug. 14) – the hard reality is that even if theaters open back up again, there’s no guarantee that crowds will feel safe enough to attend or way to know how social distancing measures will influence the experience.

“Unless New York and LA actually open (this summer) – and that is just seeming more and more impossible as we go – there is no way a studio is going to open a movie, especially a tentpole," Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations told USA Today. "Science and education will not allow for it.”

However, movie theaters aren't going anywhere. While it may take longer to reopen, Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore, assures that they will be back eventually. He adds that the offerings of 2021 will be a strong incentive to return to the movies.

However, he warns that things will be “different.”

He believes capacity will be limited due to social distancing, and loyalty programs and discounted tickets will be how theaters try to rebuild trust and fill seats.

While Bock believes moviegoers will be cautious when making their decision, Dergarabedian points out that the resurgence of drive-in theaters all over the country underlines how much the film fans miss the movie-going experience.

Theaters will also have to deal with studios opting to release features straight to video-on-demand, especially after “Trolls World Tour” saw massive success by bypassing the its theatrical release. Bock believes it could become a “safety net” for film studios as they figure out how to move forward.

Theater closures amid the pandemic will also have an impact on the upcoming Oscars in February of 2021. It's unclear if the world will be back to normal or if the show will happen virtually, but with so many films delayed, Bock believes the show will be "strange" in terms of what gets nominated.

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