Commercial Cinema and The Rebirth of Theaters in a Post Pandemic Era
Like the movie theater industry, very few businesses saw the losses during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Movie theaters took a severe hit with the shutdowns, ban, and hesitation over public gatherings. With that came the magnanimous rise of the OTT Space. With so many options in the streaming space, many filmmakers decided to take their crafts towards the internet caves of Netflix, Hulu, Liv, Prime Video, Peacock TV, Zee 5, etc. It is not like movies didn’t do well. Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, the Japanese Anime movie, made over 500 million US Dollars worldwide during the pandemic, but even the trade analysts assured that it was a commercial anomaly in the film theater space at that time. By the time 2020 ended and 2021 began, everyone started to ask the same question? Are film theaters a dying industry?
This question wasn’t a relatively new one. It has been asked a lot since the last couple of years. The reason was the monopoly of tentpole studio blockbusters, which took away the sense of a diverse cinematic experience. If your movie wasn’t a franchise-based experience or it didn’t have studios like Disney backing it up, then it seemed like a venture destined to fail. Over their disdain for this monopoly, many creators decided to shift to OTT. They allowed new, fresh ideas that received widespread acclaim and awards and gained massive viewership throughout the world. It brought back the trend of experimental cinema in their platforms, resulting in a shift of power from theaters to OTT. In 2020, many studios realized the potential of this as an opportunity which also included the tentpole ones.
Disney started churning out blockbuster tv shows and movies in Disney plus, which began in 2019. So did HBO Max. But HBO Max took an even bolder step. It made all its theatrical releases available in its HBO max streaming service on the same day. Disney did it with Black Widow, a part of the world’s most profitable and highest grossing movie franchises. Unfortunately, the results were rather disappointing. The movie didn’t even cross the 400 million mark (Marvel movies have an average of 800 million per movie in USD). Then came their next two big projects, Shang Chi and Eternals, which failed to cross the 500 Million Dollar Mark despite decent reviews. This shook the studios and the entertainment traders that something like Marvel couldn’t restart the theaters. Meanwhile, viewership records of Squid Game and poorly reviewed movies like Red Notice were shocking the world in terms of its insane OTT value.
Situation in India
India was even behind. Big stars like Salman Khan dropped their movies on streaming platforms (Raadhe on Zee 5). Big tentpole studios like Dharma and Excel Entertainment began exploring the OTT sphere. And with some prior industry politics, Bollywood wasn’t being looked kindly upon by audiences throughout the country. The saving graces were the southern films, with 2021 Tamil Movie Master scoring double centuries in earnings right before starting their OTT Career. South Indian states gave the best content the Indian film industry had to offer, and most of them came through streaming(special mention to Amazon Prime). But Bollywood needed a comeback. And they received one on Diwali 2021.
Rohit Shetty’s Commercial Magnum Opus starring Akshay Kumar was marketed as the ‘Avengers of Bollywood.’ This movie earned a massive 232 Crores lifetime putting back the faith of theaters amongst trade analysts of Bollywood. The movie was two years into promotion, with an insane hype built around its central characters that sold the film to success that reminded the Hindi film industry of what it used to be pre-pandemic. But, it was just the beginning. This entire argument was shut down, taking a direction everyone desperately wanted it to go when December 2021 happened. Box Office made a comeback, literally when everyone was beginning to think that they had ‘No way Home.’
Pushpa, despite mixed reviews, soared through the charts being the highest-grossing Indian movie of the past two years, touching 350 crores milestone within a short period. But that wasn’t it. The leading player was swinging its way towards records built in the past decade, on its way to break them. Spiderman-No Way Home recreated the Magic of cinema-going experiences at par of Avengers Endgame(2019). With a current worldwide collection of 1.8 Billion Dollars, it stands among the list of top five grossing movies of all time. People flocked to the theaters like bees to a hive, giving the industry some relief.
One thing is established with this: the theater industry belongs to the Big boys or the tentpoles. Franchise modeling works with a sense of assurance for returns. But whether independent or tentpole, theaters are here to stay. And there is no going back.