Featured Image: Kaza Dayton | Courtesy
When I began writing film reviews for the Marlin Chronicle in the Fall of 2021, both our campus and the theatrical landscape were beginning to crawl back to normalcy. Just as campus gathering restrictions were being lifted and classes were held exclusively in-person once more, movies were finally returning to theaters in force. However, audiences were, and still are, more hesitant to see films in theaters.
Much of this hesitation comes from the availability of streaming services, which were already hurting theater business prior to the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, movies went straight to streaming, allowing viewers to watch from the comfort of their own homes, where they did not have to pay for concessions, travel to the theater or deal with unruly crowds. Even as movies returned to theaters, the introduction of day-and-date releases on streaming services, such as “HBO Max,” meant that films would be released on a streaming service on the same day it was released in theaters. This policy was devised to entice consumers to subscribe to streaming services, but also had the long-term impact of steering consumers away from theaters.
This policy was eventually replaced by shortened windows between a film’s release in theaters and its streaming debut, such as the seventeen-day window devised by “Universal Studios” for its films. However, this combined with the growing quality of films and shows created for streaming services, made many theatergoers content to wait for a movie to release on digital, rather than feeling the need to rush to theaters to see it.
This change in audiences’ mentality towards going to the theaters is evident when looking at how franchises and genres that were previously considered as “safe bets,” now struggle to attract audiences. For example, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which in the two years prior to the pandemic had four of its last five film releases gross over a billion dollars at the international box office. Since the pandemic, however, only one film, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021) has managed to cross the billion dollar milestone, with films such as “Eternals” (2021) and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (2023) even considered to have underperformed at the box office.
While even “safe bets” are becoming more risky for studios, theatrical films are beginning to make a comeback. This is particularly evident from the success of films such as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” both of which were released in 2022 and grossed over a billion dollars. The growing warmth of audiences to going to theaters is even more evident in 2023, as films such as “Scream VI” and “John Wick: Chapter 4” become the most financially successful films in their respective franchises, and “The Super Mario Brothers Movie” rapidly races towards being the first film to gross one-billion this year.
Looking at the shift in theatrical releases and their reception by audiences, one can see how they have changed. Theaters went from being entirely closed due to the pandemic, to slowly coming back to life while still having to war with streaming services for audiences’ attention. Now, while a film’s theatrical success may still be unsure, most recently made evident by “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” (2023) bombing at the box office, theaters continue to move back to normalcy as more films coax audiences to return.
By Ryan Abraham