Streaming wars

The recent COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures aren't the only things disrupting the cinema industry. In fact, cinema has been dealing with another major disruption for the last few years; streaming. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime were eating into cinemas' profits well before anybody had heard of COVID-19. What's more, major studios have realized creating streaming series and movies is far more profitable than traditional filmmaking, especially if they build their own streaming platforms. It means cinema is no longer competing with just Amazon and Netflix. Apple, Hulu, Disney, Sony, and Paramount Studios are just some of the big players creating high-quality productions you can watch from the comfort of your own home. Indeed, many streaming services now release top Hollywood films straight to people's home or with simultaneous cinema release, such as recent Disney videogame/romance/action comedy Free Guy with Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds and new Netflix art heist action comedy Red Notice, starring Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds.

The cinema strikes back

But the cinema is fighting back. It's doing so by providing experiences you can't get at home. On top of IMAX, which boasts being the world's 'most immersive movie experience', innovative 4D and 5D cinemas incorporate real-life special effects into screens, transforming a trip to the cinema into something closer to an interactive ride at an amusement park such as Disneyworld. Chairs move and vibrate during explosions and car chases, while special sensors releasing the scent of gunpowder make you feel like you're part of the action. Other stimulating effects include splashing water, wind, and strobe lighting. Cineworld, for instance, now offers a 4DX showing of all major releases. Cineworld also shows special 4DX screenings of classics such as The Matrix and the Harry Potter series.

The new James Bond movie, No Time To Die, has proved the perfect example of this quintessential cinema experience and, as such, many believe it has 'saved cinema'. The New York Times reports that, after a thrice-delayed release, it successfully ushered people back into theaters. Over the opening weekend it made £26 million ($35 million) at the box office, not just breaking pandemic records, but also exceeding the opening weekends of the two previous Bond films and putting it in the top five opening weekends for movies in Britain ever, according to data from the British Film Institute.

Jack Piggott, 31, was among the first to watch the film at the 0:07 a.m. screening of the film at Curzon Mayfair, London, part of a small chain of movie theaters, which was for the first time putting on midnight premieres. Not only is Bond a huge moment in British film, it’s also Craig’s last outing as the spy and “you might as well go all in,” Jack said waiting to enter the cinema. Despite the late hour, the appeal of Bond attracted passers-by such as Canset Klasmeyer, who made a spontaneous decision to see the film even though she had tickets booked for Monday. “It’s a big event,” she said.

The power of nostalgia

Screenwriter Terence O'Toole believes that cinema will always have a special place in our hearts. "Cinema and screening platforms can coexist. At one time, there was a thinking that TV was going to kill cinema. This stuff is not new,” says O'Toole. "But I do think cinema will become more of an art-house or retro experience -- like our current fascination with vinyl records and film cameras. For people in their 30s and older, there is a nostalgia for going to the movies. And nostalgia is a powerful force; it's a deep feeling that people will pay a lot of money to experience."

Return of the drive-in 

Cinema owners and managers need to find new, innovative ways to get customers off the couch and into theatres. For some, looking into the future of cinema means embracing its past. Earlier this year, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in Australia teamed up with Village Cinemas to host a series of events called the 'MCEC Drive-In(Door) Cinema.' It was a vast, pop-up drive-in cinema. The audio was piped in via the car radio, and moviegoers could get ice cream, soft drinks, and other sweet treats delivered to their windows. There was also a distinctly retro vibe to the showings. Featured films included 80s classics such as Back to the Future and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Written for the silver screen

“The cinema is built for the big screen and big sound," says iconic film director David Lynch. “It's where a person can go into another world and have an intense experience." The revered Chinese auteur Wong Kar-wai agrees. He says, “I always would prefer to watch a film in the cinema with an audience on a big screen instead of watching it on a cell phone or TV. It's a very different experience, more magical and intense, which is why I think the cinema form still has a bright future." A large-screen home TV can never capture the epic scale that Denis Villeneuve had in mind while shooting his remake of the classic sci-fi Dune. Neither can it recreate the silent tension underpinning a film such as 2018 horror A Quiet Place. In other words, some films are just meant to be watched at the cinema.

Cinema for the people

The economic impacts of COVID-19 have devastated many small businesses. However, despite ongoing financial strains and uncertainty, the independent cinema scene in the UK is experiencing a mini-renaissance. Smaller art-house cinemas such as HOME in Manchester have seen their attendances steadily increase since lockdown restrictions ended. This is partly due to pent-up demand, but HOME also attracts cinephiles by showing one-off screenings of cult and cinematic classics. 

These exclusive events often include after-show Q&A sessions or talks from screenwriting experts. At the same time, HOME has a policy of showing more foreign-language films to cater to Manchester's diverse population and to encourage cinemagoers to explore a variety of films from around the world. "Many of our biggest successes have been foreign-language films, several which are directed by women or people of color," says Jason Wood, creative director for film and culture at HOME in Manchester. "Some played for four weeks and sold out every single performance." 

Independent cinema in the USA

Independent cinema has some prominent supporters in the USA. In July this year Quentin Tarantino announced he had purchased the historic Vista Theatre, a one-screen cinema on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. It's looking to open Christmas 2021 and will show a mix of new and classic movies. The Vista Theatre is the second independent cinema owned by Tarantino.  The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood director bought The New Beverly Theatre back in 2007. It exclusively shows 35mm and 16mm films, most from Tarantino's personal collection, and continues to sell out almost every single show. "I think boutique cinemas will thrive over the next few years," Tarantino says.

The show will go on

With winter looming, many health experts are warning about the possibility of future lockdowns. This would cause huge problems for filmmakers and studios all over the world. However, France's film industry is well-prepared for any restrictions. During the first round of national lockdowns, the French national film board, health authorities, and cinema professionals negotiated new ways of working under COVID-19. The 46-page filming during COVID guide covers everything from hand sanitizer, using masks and other PPE, testing, and rewriting scenes to comply with social distancing guidelines. The measures helped over 450 French films get made during the pandemic. Billions of dollars would have been lost without the new guidelines, and thousands of people would have remained out of work.

Many other countries and production houses have implemented similarly stringent policies to allow directors and actors to make the films we so enjoy. Tom Cruise, notably, divided opinion last December for berating crew members on the Mission: Impossible 7 set for breaking COVID protocols. In a leaked audio tape, it was also revealed that he also said, “I’m on the phone with every ----ing studio at night...insurance companies...producers!”

Thankfully, with the successful rollout of vaccines in many countries around the world, life, including film production, is largely returning to normal, meaning that, while no one can bottle the magic of the silver screen, it's becoming less troublesome for people to make, and see, brilliant cinema again. Our love affair with the big screen is far from over. Instead, it looks like it’s entering an exciting new period where movie-going will become more immersive, entertaining, and authentic.