The question that seems to be on most film fans’ minds and definitely the minds of major Hollywood studios is simple, yet difficult to answer—when will movie theaters be back to normal? Namely, when will we see weekend after weekend dominated by new films at the multiplex and record-breaking box office, like we’ve been accustomed to? Well, given the recent decisions by Cineworld and the AMC financial situation, the answer might be “never.” But the heads of two major studios, Warner Bros. and Universal, sure do hope that’s not the case.
Speaking on a virtual panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference (via Deadline), Donna Langley, the chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, and Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of Warner Bros, both spoke about the future of cinemas in the post-pandemic world and whether or not their respective studios would be interested in drastic measures to save them.
Of course, by “drastic measures,” we mean the idea that has been floated around that major studios such as WB or Universal purchase a struggling theater chain such as AMC and use those locations as exclusive places to see some of their films. This would have been illegal in past years, but with the recent decision that now allows for film studios to own theaters of their own, it’s a possibility, right? Well, not according to the two women in charge of Universal and WB.
“We have no plans to do that currently,” Langley said.
Sarnoff added, “We have no plans either.”
So, if the studios aren’t going to purchase the theaters, what do the two executives think is going to happen to the theatrical release business? Can AMC survive if the world’s largest theater chain has to file bankruptcy at the end of the year? Will Regal Cinemas ever reopen in the US? Sarnoff is hopeful and is “rooting for them.”
“I’m kind of an armchair sociologist and I believe people want to have communal experiences and especially with certain genres,” Sarnoff said. “We’re big fans of the exhibitors. They’ve been good partners of ours for many decades. We’re rooting for them. I know it’s tough sledding right now. I’m hoping they come out on the other side, probably even stronger.”
We’ve seen studios such as WB and Universal release films straight to VOD in light of the recent theatrical shutdown. And to help create buzz about theaters reopening, WB went so far as to release Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” across the world. However, that didn’t pan out quite as well as the studio hoped.
So, without a bailout coming from studios, we’ll all have to wait and see what happens.