Movie theaters need to adapt

Mason Hickok, Web Editor

I, like many film lovers, was relieved when theaters began to reopen. While I do enjoy watching movies at home — just ask my 364 and counting collection of films — nothing beats a trip to the movie theater. I equate attending the opening night of a film to the archaic idea of waiting in line until midnight for the latest video game to release: The latter of which was a fantastic experience when it was prominent. However, while theaters are beginning to emerge from the grips of the pandemic, the conversation around their importance to movie-watching seems to be in question. 

When discussing theaters, you’d be remiss not to note the significance of the types of films presented and the rise in streaming services. While the pandemic certainly halted theaters, streamers like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max had already been fighting to assert their dominance in their respective markets. I mean seriously, there is an unreal amount of content locked behind subscriptions that consumers are meant to choose from, and it seems like there is a new streaming service coming out all of the time. You used to be able to watch all things Disney, CBS and Nickelodeon on Netflix, but now they’re locked to their respective streaming services. 

It seems that companies are now simultaneously releasing films in both the theater and on streaming platforms, much to the dismay of the creators of the film. “Dune,” directed by Denis Villeneuve and set to release in theaters on Oct. 22, is slated to stream on HBO Max on the same day. Villeneuve has made his stance on the “Dune” release already, noting Warner Bros. “complete disregard…and choice to promote its streaming service over the hard work of its filmmakers.” Also, Scarlett Johansson recently sued Disney for a breach in their contract for her film, “Black Widow.” While it seems both parties have cordially settled their differences, these discrepancies between theaters and streaming platforms will inevitably continue to exist.

The changes to cinema have inevitably accelerated due to the pandemic. Couple this with the rise in franchise films, remakes and more dominating movie theaters, you have a crossroads. Now, I’m not here to echo Martin Scorsese’s words on Marvel films, though I do find some validity in them, his view towards how big-budgeted films affect the theater experience is what’s more important to me. His notion that Marvel films are like amusement park experiences shows some truth. Google “avengers endgame opening night” and see the audience reactions. Is this some foreign way of enjoying a film? No, not at all. To me, it’s a fanbase that is so devoutly about their films that they can’t help but exude excitement. That is fine by me. But, far and away these types of movies dominate theaters and box offices because they’re in demand. My only concern is when these are the only films that are on the bill at the theater. Scorsese noted that movie-watching is, at its core, a communal experience. This is absolutely the way. As much as I love my mother and our dogs, watching a film on the couch is not the same as watching it in a packed-out theater. I can remember, fondly, going to the premiere of “Insidious: Chapter 2” with some of my youth group friends; our theater was literally filled to the brim and we all shared in that film’s jump scare galore. These are moments that I hope we can return to post-pandemic.

I am also not saying that independent or foreign films are the upper-echelon of the movie experience, but in some cases, they are often criminally overlooked or ignored. Though, films like “Parasite” and “Roma” have elevated past their respective markets. Bong Joon-ho, the director of “Parasite,” famously asked audiences to more or less “overcome” the subtitles, as a whole separate world exists in foreign cinema. When was the last time you sat down to watch a foreign film that wasn’t a box office hit? Or, better yet, seen one in a movie theater? 

While we as consumers may not have the ability to necessarily affect a theater’s movie line-up, we absolutely should cultivate and support the changing market. Streamers aren’t going away, the same way theaters can’t go away. If we lose theaters, we lose an essential cog in the wheel that is entertainment and experience.

In a perfect world, on opening night, my local theater would be showing its big-budget comic book film, maybe an independent darling that is sure to gain awards traction and even a 35mm repress of an obscure film that echoes a film movement from the past, and to some extent that is already happening. Theaters like Alamo Drafthouse and the Austin Film Society’s Cinema are perfect examples of this fluidity that should be adopted and the inevitable evolution of movie watching.