When was the last time we went to a movie theatre? While most cinemas have reopened following months of pandemic-forced closures, I doubt moviegoers are ready to return en masse. As a movie critic who's been mainly working from home for the last 15 months, I miss the ambience of cinema -- the smell of popcorn, the posters advertising coming attractions or the greats of cinema's glory years. I miss finally watching that film on the big screen in darkness, the chilly atmosphere and surround sound that created an immersive experience that can't be replicated in a living room.
So when James Bond's No Time To Die opened in theatres, despite fears of the coronavirus, I decided to give the theatre a visit. Last Saturday afternoon, less than 10 people had actually bought tickets to see Daniel Craig in action. Quickly, my fear of Covid turned to concern for the movie theatre industry. Many industries are suffering due to the current state of the world, and theatres are no exception to that. Last year saw a huge drop in revenue for movie theatres and film studios that saw the continued trend of a steady decline in ticket sales.
Moviegoers have grown accustomed to the plethora of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and HBO GO. The current pandemic didn't just hurt theatres and studios at the box office, it may have made a trip to the cinema less relevant to the regular moviegoer. So it raises the question: Will these streaming services replace the cinema?
These on-demand streaming platforms haven't really been considered a threat to movie theatres in the past, but with the pandemic, that seems to have changed. Previously, many film studios released movies exclusively in theatres before making them available to the public via streaming and broadcasting. We are now seeing a change in mindset. Certain studios have partnered with streaming services to release their movies on streaming platforms at the same time as a theatrical release. Last year, Warner Bros announced it will partner with HBO to release movies in US theatres like Dune and The Matrix Resurrections and on HBO at the same time. In Thailand, the latest Marvel film Black Widow was released in theatres and on Disney+ Hotstar the same day.
Despite the many streaming services available, not all titles are available on these platforms, giving cinemas a slight advantage. Also, even the most expensive home theatre systems cannot provide "a true experience". There are certain films made for the theatre experience. Films directed by auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan provide a spectacle that cannot be reproduced at home.
Sure, some theatres and chains will close down but the overall industry will keep going. The pandemic has shown certain studios and companies that streaming works, but this doesn't mean they will stop producing movies for movie theatres entirely. I truly hope that once the world returns to normal, we will see a resurgence of people going to theatres more than ever. People are sick of staying at home. We are social creatures and go to theatres not just for a movie. It's a place where we can hang out with friends and family or go on a date, among many other reasons. Movie theatres will not go away or be replaced by streaming, at least not anytime soon. Despite pandemic-forced changes, movie theatres will find a way to thrive.
Tatat Bunnag is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.