With many economies now either easing their lockdown restrictions and social distancing guidelines or deciding to just live with the virus, more people feel more comfortable going out and being around others, helping the movie industry make a bit of a comeback.
Why’s the industry caught between two worlds?
Sitting in a crowded theater with a box of popcorn and 150 other people during a pandemic isn’t exactly the safest thing to do, and because of that, movie theaters have been hit hard over the past two years.
In the absence of that movie theater experience and with the worldwide lockdowns in place, many turned to streaming platforms to watch hit new movies.
With platforms like Disney+ and Apple TV+ having only launched a few months before the pandemic, these streaming services were in a good position to be premiering their own movies.
But with many economies now either easing their lockdown restrictions and social distancing guidelines or deciding to just live with the virus, more people feel relatively comfortable going out and being around others, helping the movie industry make a bit of a comeback.
With that, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has become the first pandemic-era movie to reach the US$1 billion mark, becoming the top-grossing film of 2021 globally.
How successful was the new Spider-Man movie?
Very – if you compare it to how movies and the entertainment industry as a whole were doing for the past two years.
In fact, the movie beat expectations and opened to US$253 million on its first weekend. This is the third-biggest opening weekend of all time, including compared to pre-pandemic times.
That opening weekend figure is also more than any other movie has made in its entirety in box office sales since March 2020.
According to American director and producer Dan Mirvish to TMS, "the 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' and its box office phenomenon definitely jump-started the return to movie theater attendance in the States.”
But he also offered a word of caution for anyone looking at this success as a sign that theaters are going back to normal while COVID-19 is still around.
“Triumphant, even arrogant, claims of box office success from theater owners may ultimately not age well,” said Mirvis, “as the rise of omicron sends people scurrying back home to their couches and Netflix accounts.”
Does this mean that streaming is going to beat out theaters?
Not quite. According to Mirvish, what this record-breaking opening “does prove is the desire for people to return to live theaters is still there, and reminds us all that live movie screenings still provide a vital function in our society.”
It’s also worth keeping in mind that there are many ways things get released in both cinemas and streaming platforms.
For example, Marvel’s "Black Widow" debuted both in theaters and on Disney+ on the same day in July.
It’s also important to note, though, that this resulted in a pretty big lawsuit for The Walt Disney Company, aka Disney, with actor Scarlett Johansson claiming that the Disney studio sacrificed the film’s box office potential in order to grow its Disney+ streaming service. By doing this, it also reduced the actor's financial stake because she had agreed that her salary would be largely based on the box office gains.
Disney's argument was that Johansson was paid US$20 million for the film.
Even though the lawsuit was settled at the end, it suggests that streaming platforms and theaters are still learning to coexist and figure out their roles and dynamic in the industry.
Mirvish warned that the success of the Spider-Man movie might be an anomaly rather than a significant sign about the future of the movie industry.
“I suspect [the successful Spider-Man release] may be more of a one-week anomaly as lines around the block for movie theaters turn into lines around the block for Omicron Covid testing,” he said.
But, he also said that the theaters aren’t likely to disappear entirely, as some feared.
“Covid hasn't killed the movie-going experience, it's just put it in a medically-induced coma for a couple of years.”
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