Archive for December 12th, 2020

A tipping point for cinema?

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that major film studios could be the saviour of cinemas/theatres; it now seems there is no appetite for this.  There have been two big announcements; first Warner Bros. said that all its 2021 movies would debut online on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time as the cinema release. Now Disney have announced some of its films including Peter Pan & Wendy (directed by David Lowery), and Pinocchio (directed by Robert Zermeckis, starring Tom Hanks) will skip cinema’s and go straight to Disney+ subscription streaming service.  On top of this they have announced multiple new Marvel and Star Wars projects for the streaming service.  The suggestion is that Disney see their future online, which is an interesting considering their successful TV channels (that include ESPN, ABC, Lifetime, History, and FX) that are sure to be impacted their TV business.  The TV channels are currently earning them more money than Disney+ but the future is online and Disney look to be taking a hit now in order to future proof the business.   

Looking at it from the other side, as we come out of lockdown two, Cineworld venues in the UK (and the rest of the world) look set to remain closed until March 2021.  In a statement they have suggested they have secured sufficient liquidity to survive another year providing they reopen their 660 venues across the UK and US by late spring.  The financial measures all seem to revolve around managing a near $5bn debt.   Odeon and Vue are opening most venues in tier 1 and 2 areas within the next few days; the great hope to bring people back to cinema is Wonder Woman 1984 due for a UK release on 16 December 2020.  Given the strong reviews and the good will created by the first film it wouldn’t be unreasonable under normal circumstances to expect a box-office in the region of $1bn topping the just over $800million the first film took.  But these aren’t normal times!  Not only are people still slow to return to cinema’s, but have announced that when the film is released the following week, on Christmas day in the US, it will simultaneously be available on HBO Max. While many people will still choose to see the film in the best way at the cinema, a huge proportion of the audience will be lost to those who are happy to see it at home. 

Directors Christopher Nolan and Director Denis Villeneuve have been outspoken about the Warner decision.  This is somewhat understandable when you look at the two directors.  Nolan has long been the champion of shooting films on celluloid and exhibiting them in cinema’s.  He has also made a lot of money for the studio.  Villeneuve on the other hand is in a interesting position; he has a film in the can with Warner.  Dune (adapted from Frank Herbert’s 1965 Novel) was due for release next week, but has been pushed back an entire year.  The issue, his film isn’t actually an adaptation of the book, it is half the book!  Given the $165million budget, it would probably need to achieve over $700million to guarantee a sequel. 

All things considered we are in a precarious position for the future of cinema.  With the Covid-19 situation and the lockdowns associated with this, it was always going to be tough.  However, the real issue is the studios and distribution companies.  Disney and Warner are big hitters, and while they are clearly acting autonomously, they are sure to influence other smaller companies.   You then have to consider the audience; as a film lover, I want to watch films on the biggest screen possible, but many people will be happy to see things at home.  The problem is that if we don’t support cinemas many of them won’t be there in future.  As concerning as the loss of cinema’s making them too exclusive, too expensive. That could be slow death of cinema.

On a positive note, the decline of cinema has been predicted for the past 90 years, and it’s still here!

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