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COVID-19 INFECTS THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
On any given day, a nearly empty movie theater would make moviegoers rejoice. But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, film fanatics are avoiding theaters like the (literal) plague, proving a challenge to the entertainment industry’s economy.
Due to recommendations from the CDC instructing to avoid crowded public places and limit the virus’ spread, movie patrons are abandoning theaters. In response to low audience attendance, more potential blockbusters are joining the list of postponed releases. Among those expected to make a March debut were “Mulan” and “A Quiet Place Part II,” both now set to release in the next two months.
Films that maintained their March releases have fallen victim to empty box offices. Pixar’s “Onward” brought in $39 million upon opening on March 6, while its 2018 counterpart, “Incredibles 2,” made nearly five times that amount.
Some nationwide theater chains, including Cinemark, AMC, and Regal Cinemas, have closed until further notice. At Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request, all movie theaters in Palm Beach and Broward counties are to be closed, the only local exception being the Lake Worth Swap Shop and Drive In. Time reports that the box office is seeing its lowest sales in 20 years, a hard-hitting reality for one of the largest sectors of the entertainment industry.
“Film is predicated on large groups of people coming together for both production and exhibition,” communications teacher Ruby Hernandez said. “Social distancing and quarantining are really important on the medical end, but will result in economic loss to most industries.”
Not only Hollywood producers have been forced to surrender to the virus, but small scale filmmakers as well. Streaming Canvas was set to debut student films on March 13, but was put on hold due to concerns about low attendance and audience safety. The film festival is to be rescheduled before the end of the school year, although a specific date hasn’t been set.
“It wasn’t worth trying to put on a show that people wouldn’t want to be at,” communications senior Kristina Robinette said. “I was looking forward to it so much, and now it really might not happen.”
Despite the lack of traditional movie viewings, people still have high demand for entertainment; given the surge in Netflix’s download rates, that entertainment will likely come from streaming.
The switch to streaming has been imminent this past decade, but COVID-19 may be the final straw that tips viewers away from theaters and back to their home screens. In Hong Kong, Netflix downloads have nearly doubled since the beginning of the year. Rather than delaying movie releases, Universal is making select new films accessible through streaming, when they normally would have been in theaters for approximately 90 days before being released online.
In the end, history shows us that the film industry will not cease to exist simply because movie theaters are closed. Plenty of “catastrophes” in the past have impacted Hollywood filmmakers — like the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 — which did little to change film in the long run, given the industry’s success today. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic, movies will continue to have audiences on the edge of their seats — or rather, the edge of their living room couch.
As filmmaker Jia Zhangke told Indiewire: “This epidemic has caused us to stop and think about our society and a lot of issues that we haven’t been reflecting on for a long period of time. So on a creative level, we may find a lot of sources of inspiration as a result of this epidemic to make more work.”