COVID’s Impact on the Film Industry


Many industries have seen irrevocable damage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the film industry being hit especially hard thanks to the necessity of social distancing. Movie theater release dates have been heavily pushed back or altogether abandoned, while streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu have experienced exponential growth of their viewer count. 

Big Budget films such as Black Widow, No Time To Die, Free Guy, and Soul had their release dates postponed by at least four months. Black Widow is now going to be released on May 7, 2021, making 2020 the first year in which Marvel Studio hasn’t released a new film, ending the ten year streak they’ve maintained since Iron Man 2 was released in 2010. No Time To Die, Free Guy, and Soul are currently scheduled for a November release. Moreover, some studios have decided to bite the bullet and release their films early through Video on Demand. 

Not all studios are willing to wait until it is safe to go back to theaters, believing it is financially viable to release their films directly to video in order to make a profit. Universal was one of the first studios to attempt this strategy, releasing Trolls World Tour direct to video after a very limited theatrical run. In addition, Universal also released The Invisible Man and The Hunt on VOD before the end of their traditional theatrical run. This decision ultimately proved to be successful, as Indiewire reported that Trolls World Tour made over 50 million dollars in VOD rentals in its first six days. Many other studios began to follow suit, with many films going exclusively to VOD or streaming. Films such as Artemis Fowl, Antebellum, King of Staten Island, and Mulan were originally scheduled for theatrical release, but ended going straight to video, most of which with an expensive rental price. Not all studios have decided to turn straight to VOD, however; some filmmakers have really pushed towards keeping a theatrical release. 

Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan has been a huge proponent for maintaining the theatrical experience, and he has been fighting to ensure that his newest film, Tenet, goes to theaters. He got his wish, as Tenet was the first mid-COVID blockbuster that got a wide-spread theatrical release in America. Some other films that got theatrical releases during the pandemic include New Mutants and Bill and Ted Face the Music, though the latter was also released on VOD while in theaters. 

As of now theatrical releases haven’t proven to be financially lucrative; Box Office Mojo reported that both New Mutants and Bill and Ted have failed to make back their budget at the box office. Even Tenet is struggling domestically, having only made 42 million at the domestic box office. This is low compared to Nolan’s last film, Dunkirk, which, according to Box Office Mojo, had made over 158 million domestically after being in theaters for a little less than a month. 

It’s hard to determine where the film industry is heading nowadays, especially with many theatrical releases doing poorly in the States. Fewer and fewer people have been going to movie theaters over the years, and that was before it was a health risk. According to a study published by Amy Watson in 2019, only 46% of adults claim to go to the movie theater once a year or less, possibly due to the rise of streaming over the course of 2010s. The pandemic has hurt theatrical attendance even more, which has proven the financial viability of straight-to-video releases. 

Anthony D’Alessano reported that Universal CEO Jeff Shell was interested in releasing new movies through both theaters and VOD after the pandemic, although AMC Theatres has refused to distribute Universal films with this business model. There is a chance that studios will start to rely more on VOD and streaming, especially because it has proven to be financially lucrative. I really hope that isn’t the case though, because going to the theaters is a special kind of experience that can’t be emulated at home, and I hope others feel the same way after the pandemic.