Opinion | Sorry, We Aren’t Going Back to the Movies
I love Vin Diesel so much that he is the only man who could persuade me to head back to the movie theater post-Covid.
I’m talking about “F9,” of course, the latest installment of the “Fast & Furious” series, this time pitting Mr. Diesel’s long-suffering family guy Dom Toretto against his “forsaken” brother Jakob, played by John Cena. And then there is Charlize Theron as the ever-evil Cipher and … well, whatever. I don’t really care about the typically witless plots, as long as there are cars and explosions and mostly cars exploding.
But it’s certainly enough to get me into a small multiplex tonight and fork over the money to see it, the first in-person movie I have been to in forever. And I’m not alone: The musclebound franchise has garnered more than $500 million worldwide so far since it opened on June 25, more than $125 million in the U.S. and notably more than $200 million in China.
As the biggest haul in the pandemic era, some in Hollywood see the performance of “F9” as a sign that theatrical releases are back and that the inevitable push to streaming, which was escalated drastically due to the pandemic restrictions and consumer fears, will abate. After all, much of Hollywood recoiled when the WarnerMedia head Jason Kilar announced last December that the studio would release its 2021 movies in theaters and on its streaming service HBO Max at the same time.
Hollywood has reacted as if the former Amazon and Hulu exec had taken away all its Botox. I get it, especially because he and his team did the deal cloddishly: They did not value the enduring importance of talent relationships or anticipate the pain of foisting a new economic deal on an old system.
Even still, given most of what Hollywood pumps out, it’s clear that Mr. Kilar will be proved right. He correctly pointed out that streaming was about to match and eventually overtake theater as the critical way to distribute entertainment.
It has been the same across the business spectrum. Post-pandemic, retailers or restaurants or office real estate developers will surely be back, but not — I am sorry to report — better than ever, no matter how hard the old guard decries the inevitable. Covid has only escalated tech power that was already starting to overwhelm many industries. And movie theaters remain on the lowest flood plain.
Change is nothing new for Hollywood. The powers that be in music and television managed to make mincemeat of Napster and call Netflix names, only to watch the ongoing digital army advance anyway. Now, of course and obviously, Hollywood has embraced the change and produced an amazing array of entertainment in recent years after a whole lot of dramatic bellyaching. That’s smart, since consumers love both the content, digital content delivery and, eventually — as the water equalizes, as it always does — Hollywood-movie folks will figure out the necessary economic equilibrium.
When streaming is an option, given the decline of the price of home theaters and boom in streaming capabilities, increasing numbers of people will take it. And the theater business, including struggling chains, will continue to shrink, and labor to sell tickets — unless theater owners improve the moviegoing experience and offer better services. Or just admit that operating a theater is a labor of love.
A good example of the latter is director Quentin Tarantino’s recent purchase of the truly wonderful Vista Theatre in Los Angeles, where he plans to show new movies only on film and not via digital projection. I might bite once or twice when I’m in town, but more as a quaint gesture. I am here to tell you it’s not going to make most theaters cool or more profitable again.
Except, of course, when the entertainment industry pumps out mega-products like “Fast & Furious” and even “The Quiet Place, Part II,” which has beat “F9” so far with more than $145 million in domestic revenues and was the first blockbuster in months to play exclusively in theaters for several weeks before being available for streaming. Both have been helped by pent-up demand, but also by the fact that they are “events.” We’ll see if upcoming blockbuster wannabes, lined up like planes at an overcrowded airport ready to fly, can take off. Well, sort of: Disney’s “Black Widow” came out on July 9, both in theaters and on Disney Plus with a $30 Premier Access, and “Gunpowder Milkshake” will debut on Netflix on Wednesday and will be released in theaters abroad starting on Thursday.
I’m watching both at home because, for the most part, I now like it that way — and will more and more. I know I am what Hollywood might call an “early adopter,” so dismiss me all you like. But if you’re not going to listen to me, try Vin Diesel in the original “Fast & Furious”: “It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.”
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