The Future Of Movie Theaters In The Age Of Coronavirus: A Dialogue

Movie buffs of a certain age will remember waiting nearly half a year to rent a movie after it left theaters. That is no longer.

You can now expect to stream certain films as soon as 31 days after theatrical release, thanks to a new deal struck between Universal and Cinemark Entertainment.

“Under the terms of the multiyear pact, a Universal movie opening to $50 million or more at the domestic box office can be made available in the home via premium VOD beginning 31 days after it opens on the big screen,” according to the Hollywood Reporter, which added that the window “doesn't apply to regular on-demand or streaming, and is PVOD only.”

The report added, “Cinemark, the country's third-largest chain, is OK with all other Universal, DreamWorks Animation and Focus Features movies being made available on PVOD after 17 days, similar to the history-making arrangement Universal struck with AMC Entertainment in late July.”

This is big, not just because it shortens the window between theatrical and home release to just a month, but also because the growing shift to online streaming has the backing of two of the three largest theater chains in the country.

In other words, we are that much closer to in-home releases becoming the norm and not the COVID-19 exception.

Though some have struggled with the concept, it seems increasingly likely that theaters will become niche entertainment venues, more like casinos or amusement parks, where attendees go maybe once a year rather than weekly or monthly. It seems increasingly likely that this is the future of brick-and-mortar theaters, regardless of where we are with the coronavirus.

If movie studios really are migrating out of theaters and into living rooms, then what does the future of film look like? What happens to tentpole and event films? Will the only films available for viewing in actual theaters be big to-do action films, something like Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, where seeing the film on the big screen is half the experience? Will theaters become nostalgia factories where the purpose is not to showcase the latest releases but to remain available for communal events, to screen cult classics and megahits from the past?

The current trajectory suggests the future of film is in online streaming, not because it is necessary for health and safety reasons, but because the coronavirus lockdowns proved it is a feasible, doable model for movie studios that are always on the lookout for ways to cut distribution costs.

If this is where the future of films is heading, and the deal struck between Universal and Cinemark Entertainment suggests it is, theater chains may soon become a rare treat rather than a regular weekend activity — if they don't entirely go the way of Blockbuster, that is.

Curtains for movie theaters?
Curtain Call: In the age of livestreaming we still need live theater
COVID-19 forces movie theater industry into fight for survival
Live venues seek federal help; movie theaters want to join them
How ‘Croods: A New Age’ previews what movie releases could look like after the pandemic
Michael J. Fox talks about getting older and looking to the future
Michael J. Fox Still Looks to the Future
The Croods: A New Age - Review
The Tech Sector Should Listen To Those With Hearing Loss
Atlantic Highlands Cinema Another Casualty of the Pandemic