By Branyan Towe
In 2012, I was on a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, with my Mom and Granma. We had just eaten dinner and walked around Universal CityWalk Orlando; the two of them wanted to see a show. However, I didn’t want to go, choosing instead to see “The Hunger Games” at what was then known as AMC Universal Cineplex. That night, I fell in love with Suzanne Collins’ Young Adult dystopian franchise, and it happened during my first experience at an AMC theater ever. I loved the atmosphere and can still remember it vividly, the feel of the seats, the look of the place. When I left, I told my folks all about not only the movie but the theater as well. It made me wish there was an AMC in my hometown, and that wish came true several years later when the theater I grew up going to became an AMC. I was overjoyed and went on to experience some of my most recent favorite moments at the movies there. The last movie I ever saw at the movie theater of my childhood was “Birds of Prey.” Not once when I was leaving did I think that would be the case, but then after the COVID-19 pandemic, the theater announced it would not reopen. Suddenly, this place where I had seen everything from “The Adventures Of Pluto Nash” to “Spider-Man: Far rom Home” was permanently gone.
Movie theaters have always been a sort of sanctuary for me. The place that I go to escape from my day-to-day life. Losing the theater that I basically grew up with stung, even with the knowledge that I have other theaters to go to. It made me realize that I didn’t want to lose the movie theater experience in a post-COVID-19 world and that I shouldn’t take it for granted. I truly hope that others are able to realize that as well if they haven’t already.
Now I get it, you’ve likely seen the recent efforts from Marvel and Universal studios to welcome audiences back to the movies, and they either made you excited or made you roll your eyes. Personally, they made me feel like we are close to the end of a tunnel where I wasn’t too sure that cinemas would be able to survive. With Disney+ and HBO Max embracing the idea of Same-Day Premieres, I began to wonder if theaters would go the way of Blockbuster. While the recent success of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which was released in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day, is promising, I’m still not wholly convinced. After all, the ArcLight Cinemas and the Cinerama Dome in California recently announced they would be closing. If “The cinephile’s movie theater chain,” as Rebecca Keegan of the Hollywood Reporter calls it, can close, then certainly any theater can, right?
While one can argue that big-budget films are so costly to produce that cinemas can’t die, we live in the era of streaming services, most of which are willing to pump billions of dollars into their content that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. There are also smaller budget indie films that you wouldn’t usually see at the bigger chains like AMC and Regal. Losing theaters like the ArcLight Cinemas and the Cinerama Dome is a big blow for them, and it could be a slippery slope for cinemas as a whole if we aren’t too careful. You also have to consider the implications of a shorter theatrical window, which several studios have already committed to as the new normal. As Chaim Gartenberg of The Verge points out, “It’s a move that makes sense for all the companies involved.” However, it also means that theaters are losing out on the exclusivity of movies sooner so that they can be rushed to streaming services to maximize profit for the studio. I’m not here to beat the drum for the CEOs of the big theater chains; my concerns are with theater employees and the preservation of the moviegoing experience. I can’t help but feel like the shortened theatrical window may lead to more theater closures, putting people out of work. I really hope that I’m wrong about that, though.
Regarding the preservation of the moviegoing experience as a whole, I certainly plan to do my part. In my mind, there’s nothing quite like going to the movies; there is a magic that cinema has. A prime example I have is seeing “Avengers: Endgame” on opening night in 2019. I can still remember the atmosphere, how the theater erupted during the epic final battle, and the sniffles of almost everyone as the film concluded. That type of experience isn’t something that can be replicated when you’re sitting at home on the couch, as I found out when I re-watched the same film on television recently.
As we approach the upcoming summer movie season, I’m hopeful and concerned for the future of the moviegoing experience. The long-awaited releases of Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow,” Jon M. Chu’s enchanting musical adaptation of “In The Heights,” Disney’s take on the origins of one of their greatest villains in “Cruella” and the sequels “F9” and “A Quiet Place Part II” are just around the corner, which means we’ll likely get to see if the success of “Godzilla vs. Kong” was actually a sign of things to come. If you are comfortable enough, I would encourage you to visit your local cinema in the coming weeks. The cinematic experience means a lot to me and so many others around the world. It is something that should be preserved rather than bypassed and forgotten. I think that Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of Netflix’s “The Old Guard,” sums it up best in her piece for the New York Times, saying, “Streaming has been great during this time, and it was incredible for “The Old Guard” to reach the global audience that it did. But I still love theaters. I love the collective experience of watching a film with people I don’t know who are all feeling the same things.”
Personally, I don’t want to live in a world where we look back on theaters the same way we have become nostalgic for Blockbuster and other video stores. I hope that we’re able to preserve the moviegoing experience for many generations to come so that they can actually take part in it, rather than look back at photos and documentaries, remarking how cool it must have been to go to the movies in the old days. So please, still be safe when going to the theater but know that even with these same-day premieres on streaming services, the theaters need us now more than ever before. What will you be seeing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Branyan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @BranyanTowe