There are movies that do just fine on the small screen—comedies, family dramas, much of animation—and then there are the films that thrive in the theater. Big action movies are best experienced on the big screen, and the news of Warner Bros. announcement feels like one more nail in the coffin of the theater business.
Among the movies that will be debuting on HBO Max in 2021 are Dune, The Matrix 4, and Mortal Kombat. Wonder Woman 1984 kicks off the switch to the small screen on this Christmas Day.
While these films will also get a theatrical release, the tale of the tape of the movie business is looking grim. A surefire sign of the apocalypse—2020 is the first year since 2009 without the release of a film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
However, this is not the first time the film industry has dealt with a pandemic. In 1918, there were 20,000 independent theater owners, with somewhere between 80% and 90% experiencing shut downs because of the flu.
Independent of disease, many other threats have prompted the writing of premature obituaries for the movie theater. The arrival of sound, color, television, the VCR and streaming have prompted many to worry about the end of cinema as we know it.
This time, however, the threat is compounded—and Regal Cinemas, the second largest chain in the US, has shut down its 500 locations. AMC, the largest chain, has cut a new deal with Universal that is deeply disadvantageous for AMC, which smacks of desperation.
The reduction of competition in the theater game isn’t good news for the consumer. As it so happens, AT&T, which owns Warner Bros, will also be limiting its content to its own platforms—namely HBO Max, its home internet service, and phones. Vertical integration at its finest.
As it stands, AMC is only working with just six months worth of cash. Owned by a Chinese conglomerate, the Wanda Group, and Silver Lake Partners, an equity management company that also owns AirBnB, Expedia, and GoDaddy, among other such properties, the company originally founded by the Durwood brothers in 1920 is the last stronghold of the American cineplex. Whether it can last or what comes next remains to be seen.
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