Movie theaters, as we presently know them, could be going the way of the dinosaur. After months of almost no business because of pandemic-related closings, major movie theater chains have taken massive hits to their bottom lines. It couldn’t have happened any other way considering the limited nature of public gatherings and a number of guidelines and restrictions around what businesses could remain open. And now, it looks like theaters could be calling the ball when it comes to pushing back on in-home streaming around major motion picture releases. AMC announced today that they are on board with how big releases could now avoid theaters almost altogether.
When we look back at what finally tipped the scales for movie theaters, AMC included, finally giving up and acquiescing to the new world order around major releases will be the tipping point. Wonder Woman 1984 is the movie that moved the scales once and for all. It was rumored that the WarnerMedia movie would have a simultaneous release in both theaters and on HBO Max on Christmas Day. That rumor was confirmed yesterday and could usher in a totally new dynamic to how we get the latest, blockbuster releases.
AMC, to their credit, appeared okay with the decision by Warner to release Wonder Woman 1984 on both the big screen in movie theaters as well as for subscribers of HBO Max. Honestly, they probably had very little choice. Though they reference negotiations as part of the backbone of the agreement, it’s hard to imagine AMC had much leverage in the negotiations or sway over the outcome. AMC has been in a deep financial bind for months now with reports they could run out of cash by the end of the year. Putting Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters even up against a streaming service could represent a last-ditch effort to stay solvent.
It’s not uncommon for a movie to get a limited movie theater run only to hit an online streaming platform in short order. This happened prior to the pandemic with movies like The Irishman and Uncut Gems on Amazon. In these cases, it had more to do with being award qualifications than anything else. And even these agreements between the movie theaters and the streaming platforms were tenuous. It’s clear the latter wasn’t a fan of competition in this respect.
But when the pandemic hit, movie theaters and studios alike were put into an uncomfortable bind. Studios were hesitant to release big-budget films knowing theater capacity would be, at best, very limited. But theaters were threatened with bankruptcy if there was no actual product to put on screen. It led to a standstill with some movies like Trolls World Tour, skipping the live run altogether. This caused even more friction with AMC going as far as to say they would no longer put Universal Studios movies up on screens.
This latest development with movie theaters and Warner suggests the end could be nigh for brick and mortar chains. If folks know a major movie is a simple subscription away then there will almost definitely continue to be a downward trend on box office numbers. This is likely just the beginning of the end.
But, bad news for movie theaters is great news for fans. Wonder Woman 1984 had been continually delayed but is now just about a month away from hitting the screen both big and small.