Hollywood can’t survive without movie theaters.

Hollywood can’t survive without movie theaters.

Every Thanksgiving weekend, once the holiday has passed and people are looking for things to do for the rest of the break, I get text messages from friends looking for movie recommendations: What’s worth seeing in theaters right now? In 2022, that query became more of a plea. It was there anything to see? something the whole family, not just rowdy teenagers, might enjoy? Something aimed at adult viewers? And then, with an air of horror, they would realize that only two such films had come out: Steven Spielberg’s. The Fabelmans and Rian Johnson glass onion—but that, in one of the busiest weeks of the year for multiplexes, neither was released widely.

Last year was generally a positive one for the film industry, a period of further improvement as the world continued to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, movie theaters sold approximately 216 million tickets; in 2021, that number rose to 492 million, and last year it skyrocketed to 813 million. Although still down from 2019’s number of 1.2 billion entries, we are seeing an unequivocally positive trend line. The success of releases like Top Gun: Mavericksuperhero blockbusters, not sequels and original movies it was uplifting and assuaged fears that theaters would never recover amid a surge in streaming options.

But then I watched Hollywood have one of the strangest autumns imaginable, a series of mostly self-inflicted wounds that led to speculation that the adult movie market was in trouble. The most egregious move was perhaps Universal’s decision not to give a wide theatrical release to The Fabelmans, a new Spielberg movie with Oscar rumors; as a result, it has made just $14 million since its November 11 release, and the most theaters it has played in has been 1,149 (a wide release tends to be between 3,000 and 4,000). This is well below the usual net cast by one of cinema’s most enduring names, and underscores the complete lack of trust studios have had of late.

The solution, now that 2023 is upon us, is simple: put new releases exclusively in theaters and give them a real chance to succeed with paying moviegoers. No more confusing hybrid releases, no slow and modest releases, and certainly nothing like Netflix’s bewildering commitment to glass onion, which played on 696 screens for just a week around Thanksgiving and then disappeared until it debuted online in time for Christmas. There will be glitches, yes, but Hollywood must finally recognize that the overall health of the theatrical display is a primary concern.

Throughout the pandemic, many studios have turned to streaming as part of a mad scramble to catch up with Netflix and as a way to get more attention on their own projects during a shaky time. But for movies, there doesn’t seem to be much to gain from the current approach: HBO Max is slashing its movie and TV offerings after a bold 2021 strategy to put movies online the same day they debuted in theaters, a tactic that has been jerked away. in 2022. Disney recently saw its former CEO Bob Iger return to his role, replacing his successor Bob Chapek, in part due to concerns that his streamer, Disney+, had lost $1.5 billion in a financial quarter. One of the biggest movie success stories of the year, Top Gun: Maverickit took seven months to reach his studio streamer (Paramount+), which didn’t stop it from immediately becoming the service’s number one offering.

Netflix, of course, stands out from all of this: its approach has always emphasized direct-to-stream releases, and its huge customer base generates more revenue than its newer rivals. But even Netflix continues to tweak its subscriber plateau strategy, emphasizing fewer and bigger projects. The company is committed to online exclusivity even if that means leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table: glass onion it grossed about $15 million in a week of limited theatrical release and probably could have tripled that if it had been expanded, making it one of the biggest hits of the year.

So while I don’t envision a sea change at Netflix, other studios shouldn’t fear the theatrical-exclusive “window,” which used to last for months but has shrunk or been abandoned entirely in the COVID era. Audiences don’t have a consistent notion of when a movie will be available online, but the answer is often somewhere between “immediately” and “quickly.” Lots of favorites from this year’s fall awards:The Fabelmans, Tar, The Banshees of Inisherin— expanded to only about 1,000 screens max and went online in December. All would have benefited from more time in theaters and could have been slated to expand now, before the Oscar nominations are announced next week. Instead, they’re already available to buy on iTunes.

The result is that multiplexes are hungry for options like big blockbusters like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Y Avatar: The Path of Water master the screens This Christmas, the only new wide-release family movie was Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, a long-delayed animated sequel; has thrived and made $113 million domestically, a big improvement on his weak $12 million opening. Avatar it has done tremendously well, but more encouraging is the surprising success of the few options available. horror comedy M3GAN has consistently exceeded expectations for its early January release, and the family drama A man named Ottostarring Tom Hanks, has done the same, resonating with viewers outside of New York and Los Angeles (traditionally the two strongest markets in the country).

All of this should be the stimulus studios need to return to more traditional release strategies. The alternative is terrifying to anything that hasn’t been done on the largest scale: a world where watching movies in theaters becomes a boutique option only in the largest cities, and where streaming deals are the only way to finance projects that are not blockbusters. This would be immensely damaging to the art form and the diversity of projects on offer to the public, and it’s a path that Hollywood can turn down by once again trusting theaters and the viewers who love to go there.

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