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Hollywood Without Theaters

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By Larry Schweikart


For decades, the business model of the motion picture industry (the studios) has been simple: Make your costs back in the first two weeks (later drastically condensed to the first weekend), then make your profits on all subsequent weeks, followed by television rights, DVD sales and so on. As the costs of making blockbuster, massively high-budget pictures rose, so too did the pressure to perform right out of the gate. Hence, American movies were increasingly tailored to foreign (especially Chinese) audiences so that “pre-opening day” sales would buttress the American release.

Then came the China Virus.

At first, many thought the closure of theaters would be temporary and the industry could ride it out. The emphasis on streaming was already occurring, but theater closures accelerated this transition. Some studios continued shooting but delayed their 2020 releases until 2021. (Apple-1, Disney-13, Lionsgate-4, MGM-4, Paramount-6, Sony-8, Universal-7, Warner Bros.-7.) Warner Bros. tried a novel approach by releasing “Wonder Woman 1984” on streaming platforms the same day it was released in American theaters. The new plan represented a change of strategy by the major studios that were “confronted with a reality [they’ve] been choosing to wish away,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. That may be an understatement: The 2020 domestic box office will be down a whopping 80 percent to $2.3 billion from 2019. The theaters know this. Cineplex, a Canadian chain, raised $90 million in new cash to repay debt related to the recent shutdowns. As “Batman” writer/director Christopher Nolan told the Hollywood Reporter, “The long-term future of theatrical movies depends exclusively on people’s desire to share stories together.”

Indeed, while there are many wonderful things to be said for watching a movie in your own home,

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