With movie theaters closed down for practically all of 2020, streaming platforms growing their subscription bases by leaps and bounds, and now WarnerMedia announcing that all their upcoming movies will release on HBO Max at the same time as in cinema halls, the theater industry is in the worst shape that it has ever been in. But IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond is choosing to remain optimistic. In an interview with Deadline, Gelfond stated his belief that Warner's decision is at odds with what the filmmakers working under them want.
"I don't think [the controversy over WarnerMedia's new release strategy] is a storm that's going to blow over in a few days. I think it's a real issue and I think actually it's going to have even more influence than what exhibitors think... "I think [Warner's decision] was mostly a lack of understanding of a lot of elements of how the theatrical business works. When people make movies [it's] different than making TV things for streaming. So when big directors like Chris Nolan or Denis Villeneuve or Patty Jenkins envision their movies they envision them on the big screen and they do special effects that way, lighting, camera. They are telling a visual story in a certain way. That doesn't translate well to the small screen and it's not what the talent wants."
Even before 2020, the movie theater industry was struggling in the face of fewer audiences coming to cinemas, preferring to binge-watch the latest Netflix show or movie in the comfort of their homes instead of paying for tickets, snacks, drinks, and gas to go see a movie on the big screen. Increasingly, the only movies doing big business in theaters were the giant, tentpole features like the MCU or Star Wars.
Still, 2019 was the biggest year for theater halls in terms of box-office earnings globally, and Hollywood studios still dream of producing that one movie that would do a billion-dollar gross at the box office. This year as well, Gelfond pointed out that attendance at Imax theaters in China and Japan is back at 100% of pre-[emergency] levels. With a vaccine imminent in the U.S., Gelfond is confident that audiences will be returning to theaters in a few months, and that is when Warner will have second thoughts about their online release strategy.
"I just don't understand for the life of me why WarnerMedia would give up that box office. It doesn't make any sense. If theatrical comes back, and I think it will come roaring back as it has in other places, I think they are going to look at those numbers, especially for movies later in the year like Suicide Squad and Dune, and they are going to look at the market and say, 'This just doesn't make sense ... [and] they are likely to change what they say they are doing."
Hopefully, Gelfond will be proven right in his assertions, and 2020 will not turn out to be the year that the theater industry gasped its last breath. This news comes from Deadline.