Through a career spanning three decades, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has proven time and again that he has his finger on the pulse of popular entertainment and the film industry in general. Right now, that pulse appears to be fading rapidly, what with 2020 proving to be a disastrous year for cinema halls, and WarnerMedia’s recent announcement that all their new movies in the upcoming year will be released on streaming at the same time as in theaters. During an interview with The Daily Beast, Soderbergh was asked if the recent developments mean movie theaters will soon shutter permanently.
“No. Not at all. It’s just a reaction to an economic reality that I think everybody is going to have to acknowledge pretty soon, which is that even with a vaccine, the theatrical movie business won’t be robust enough in 2021 to justify the amount of P&A you need to spend to put a movie into wide release. There’s no scenario in which a theater that is 50 percent full, or at least can’t be made 100 percent full, is a viable paradigm to put out a movie in. But that will change. We will reach a point where anybody who wants to go to a movie will feel safe going to a movie.”
Soderbergh seems to be taking a long-term view of the film industry, rather than believing that the next few months alone will decide the fate of cinema. According to the filmmaker, the profits that can be garnered through a movie that makes a killing at the box-office are simply too enormous for movie studios to ever fully give up on the practice of releasing films in theaters.
“I think somebody sat down and did a very clear-eyed analysis of what [the current global medical emergency] is going to do in the next year, even with a potential vaccine, and said, I don’t see this as being workable in 2021. Because let’s be clear: there is no bonanza in the entertainment industry that is the equivalent of a movie that grosses a billion dollars or more theatrically. That is the holy grail. So the theatrical business is not going away. There are too many companies that have invested too much money in the prospect of putting out a movie that blows up in theaters-there’s nothing like it. It’s all going to come back. But I think Warners is saying: not as soon as you think.”
While the points brought up by Soderbergh are certainly valid, the truth is, even before 2020, cinema halls were increasingly becoming the bastion of big-budget spectacle movies, and small-to-low budget movies were heading to streaming services where they did not have to worry about making a certain amount at the box-office in order to break even. 2020 has accelerated that process of division between big and small movies significantly, and for many lower-budget movies, there will most probably be no going back to cinema halls even after the rules of social distancing are finally lifted in a year or two. This news originated at The Daily Beast.