George Mitchell’s family owned a movie theater in Niantic, Connecticut, that they were forced to close after the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a significant decline in business.
“When the pandemic came, our business dropped to zero,” Mitchell said. “It was the end.”
But while COVID-19 dealt the final blow to some theaters like the Mitchells’, streaming was already forcing a shift. Now, huge changes are underway in the film industry, as a writers strike looms and the business reckons with the impact of streaming services, as well as lingering effects of the pandemic.
This weekend will see the 95th edition of the Academy Awards, with films like “Everything, Everywhere All at Once” and “The Fabelmans” vying with blockbusters like “Top Gun: Maverick” for Best Picture.
But while the move industry pats itself on the back, ticket sales at the box office are down about 35% from pre-pandemic levels — which is unsustainable for smaller cinemas, said Matt Belloni, an entertainment journalist.
“The result after COVID is that we’re seeing the box office concentrated in fewer movies, bigger grosses for the movies like ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,'” Belloni said. “But it’s that middle and lower tier that is really struggling still.”
He said all of the top 10 movies at the box office last year were sequels or prequels, “and that is very disturbing to a lot of moviegoers who want these kinds of more adult, more serious movies to do well in theaters so studios have an incentive to put ’em there.”
One such movie is “Dallas Buyers Club,” a 2013 independent film that earned Matthew McConaughey the Best Actor Oscar and producer Rachel Winter a Best Picture nomination.
Winter said that streaming has made films that traditionally might have only gone into a handful of theaters more accessible to larger audiences.
“The good news is that with access to content and access to make content, there are lots more opportunities to tell different kinds of stories,” Winter said.
But she still laments the downsizing of cinema.
“Look, I like being on my couch and in my pajamas and enjoying a movie,” she said. “I enjoy that as much as the next person. But I will never stop wanting to go to the movies.”