The Movies: Now and in the Near Future


Everyone knows it isn’t a great time for businesses. As coronavirus continues, small ones are going out of business, and large ones are sliding into states of bankruptcy. The way businesses are run has been significantly impacted during a time of social-distancing; but, most likely the worst effect is that many people are finding themselves out of a job.

Hollywood and the movie industry as a whole are certainly no exception to this. Movie theater chains have been starting to declare bankruptcy; entertainment conglomerates are losing large sums of money; and those living paycheck to paycheck, like freelancers, are suffering. But, what can we, as people who don’t work in the industry, do about it? Why should we care?

Answer: movie theaters. We’ve all had a fun time going to the movies. There’s just something about the excitement of sitting down in a dark room, with a crowd, a large bag of popcorn, and a soda in hand. Watching as the lights dim and the first logos come up on the screen. It’s what they call movie magic. And, granted, the quality of maintenance at these theaters may have gone down, there’s nothing like sitting in a theater with your friends and having a good laugh, scare, cry, etc. It’s a shared community experience, and it’s something often lost in the experience of streaming.

Movie theaters are under a lot of pressure right now. And, with some movies starting to skip the theatrical window altogether, the movie industry could look a lot different than it did before. From straight-to-digital releases to the fight between studios and theaters, it’s worth wondering what could happen to the movies in the next couple of years.

“Trolls: World Tour” and Digital Releases

The sequel to the popular 2016 movie “Trolls” was originally set to hit theaters April 10. While many other films like “No Time to Die” and “Black Widow” decided to delay their release to later in the year, Universal decided to stick with its original animated movie’s release date and, instead of putting it in theaters, make it available for a $20 48-hour rental. The movie industry likes to keep the release window consistent with all of their movies. Typically, films meant for the big screen are released on digital about 3 months after they’ve been playing in theaters. Since “Trolls: World Tour” was the first movie to go straight to digital upon release, it was somewhat of a gamble for Universal. Needless to say, Universal hit big. As the studio reported, “World Tour” made around $90 million on digital on opening weekend. In its 3 weeks of digital release, it has made more money than the original did during five months in theaters. On its opening day, it made $30 million. In comparison, Avengers: Endgame, the highest-grossing movie of all time, made $30 million in its first week on digital.

In short, it shaped up to be a game changer. While the discussion about theater vs. digital releases has been going on for a while in the business now, this news has brought even further talks at the studios about whether new movies can continue to be successful in the digital release market. Could all movies eventually go to digital release? Nowhere in the near future. “World Tour” might not prove much because studios will want more evidence that direct-to-digital movies can be just as successful as they were in theaters. It does, however, lead to further optimism about successfully putting movies on digital.

Universal vs. AMC Theaters

Universal recently spoke about their confidence in skipping movie theaters for some of their smaller movies. AMC Theaters fought back, saying they wouldn’t release any of Universal’s future movies if the studio were to go forward with it. This is big, considering Universal has some of the most beloved movie franchises, such as “Jurassic World” and “Fast Furious”. AMC is saying they would no longer play those movies. In honesty, Universal’s proposed option for smaller movies going to digital doesn’t seem that bad. From the perspective of AMC, however, they and other theaters cannot rely on the big movies alone. They need the smaller movies to stay in business, so, if Universal were to pull those small movies, it wouldn’t be good for movie theaters. AMC Theaters is already on the verge of bankrupcy and it can’t afford to lose a lot of its business. AMC Theaters currently has 1,006 movie theaters nationwide. Roughly, that’s 20% of all movie theaters in the U.S. today. If AMC were to go under, a lot of movie theaters would be lost.

In addition, small-town movie theaters are closing down, and CMX and Regal Cinemas just filed for bankruptcy. Of course, this is because of the affect of the pandemic, but theater chains have been walking a tightrope for a while now. Movie studios have recently attempted to increase their share of theater sales. During the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, Disney demanded for 60% of ticket-sales rather than the usual 50-50 split. Ever wonder why movie theater popcorn is so expensive? A majority of theaters’ profit comes from the concessions and not the movies themselves. With the fight raging on, it seems practical that Universal and other major studios would see a bright future in digital release, considering they don’t have to share the money received with theaters.


The movie industry is pretty fragile as it is. And, sure, Disney movies will keep being made, streaming services will still be hauling out new, content for all of us to watch. Movies like “Wonder Woman 1984”, “Fast 9”, and “Mulan” will always be at the movies because they offer a big, immersive experience that couldn’t be found at home; but, what will the future look like in the way we watch movies?

In practicality, it’s very probable that eventually most of the new movies being released will be released on streaming services. It’s a possibility that big war films and opening-night experiences could be very scarce. It’s a possibility movie theaters could eventually become something of a vintage experience, as drive-in movies are today.

As someone who loves film, though, I like to think going to the movie theaters will stay as prevalent as they are now. I hope movie studios will continue to understand the communal experience of seeing a movie. Going to a packed theater and sharing the experience is half the fun. After all, sharing that experience of what it means to be human is what movies are all about.