Black Panther was sitting at $699 million for a while, so Disney started throwing it on into drive-ins, months after it had come out, just to bump it up to $700 million. Everyone loves a nice round number. $699 million is decent. But $700 million? Wow.
Hamblin: It seems like we could do lots of drive-ins now, though. That could be a really popular thing this summer, right?
Sims: I think they should come back. They have this reputation as being kind of old-fashioned, and the sound is kind of cruddy, but surely now with cars being what they are and radios being fancier and Bluetooth existing, you can probably have a fancier experience at the drive-in than you could back in the day.
Wells: What was the state of movie theaters before this? I feel like people have been predicting the doom of the theater experience for years.
Sims: It’s a common prediction that because everyone has these nice home theaters and Netflix and whatnot, the movie theater business will die. But theaters being shut down has exposed that the theater industry is crucial to giant studios, which for the most part aren’t interested in proceeding without theaters. The profits come from selling tickets.
Studios could take this opportunity to say, “Look, there’s no theaters; we’re going to put our movies out online.” Instead, with a few small exceptions, mostly children’s films, all the studios are saying they’ll just release them later. Studios can’t make the sort of killing they’re used to making without movie theaters.
No one’s making an Avengers movie for your television. That wouldn’t make sense. You’d be spending ungodly amounts of money for no good reason. That’s how this infrastructure works. Some people say that, over the last decade or so, things have ballooned in a way that was maybe a little uncontrollable, with studios relying more and more on these really big-bet movies that have to be right.
Wells: Critics such as yourself have complained that the incentive to create these cookie-cutter action movies means that we’re not getting great movies.
Sims: Yes, but at the same time, movie theaters cannot exist on blockbusters alone. Multiplexes have many screens and many times to fill. They have to show other movies. That is why mid-budget and smaller movies still exist. You need to sell tickets to other things. You can’t have an Avengers every weekend.
Wells: So this is threatening to smaller productions too?
Sims: Yeah, for sure. Those smaller movies are being debated right now because a lot of studios would happily explore releasing them online while theaters are closed. Universal released Trolls World Tour, a children’s film about little dancing trolls, online during this pandemic to, I think, experiment with what kind of a profit they can make doing this. The theater chains have been very hostile, and AMC have said they will not show any more Universal films. The theater chains know that they’re in this very vulnerable position right now because they’re closed and can’t really bargain with anybody.