It all used to feel so much simpler, didn’t it? You might recall a particular time and place – just a wee bit over a year ago, actually – when looking forward to a big-budget feature film from a major powerhouse studio such as Warner Bros. or Universal meant keeping an eye on the calendar for that coveted release date. From there it became about snagging advance order tickets and lording them over your fellow movie fans, making plans to be off of work in time to catch the opening day showing of whichever celluloid fantasy had captured your particular fancy and getting into the car with the wife and kids to drive down to the local multiplex to finally seal the cinematic deal. Do you remember? If I close my eyes tightly enough I can easily cast my mind back to our own small town theatre, the smell of popcorn filling the air, the beautifully gaudy COMING SOON posters adorning all four walls and the anxious din of excited theatregoers as they looked forward to Vin Diesel jumping a car off of the Grand Canyon or as they anticipated Ralph Fiennes looking appropriately tortured in whichever epic period romance he might be starring in that year.
So much has changed since COVID-19 hit the scene, a lot of it not for the better. Still, other things have been a flat out blessing: The newfound popularity for the drive-in movie theatre, the resurgence of nature and wildlife after both endured countless years of manmade pollution and ignorance. Then there are other items up for display that are quite the mixed bag, indeed. One of those is the utter transformation for good and for ill of the theatrical movie-going experience. Simply put, when the pandemic hit, a lot of folks just didn’t feel very safe going to their local movie houses. And who can blame them? No one wanted to become the test model for a “super-spreader” event that we were warned full capacity theatres could potentially be. As a result, movie attendance began to decline. Drastically. Almost overnight it seemed that not only were the smaller independent theatres going belly-up, so too were the huge behemoths. The Hollywood studios had two options: Either dig in and wait out the pandemic, holding up a backlog of their movies until that new Golden Age when it was deemed safe for movie-lovers to go back out and enjoy a night on the town, or find an alternate route of release for the ton of film awaiting an audience, any audience. Enter the streaming phenomenon.
With many movie studios feeling as if they had no other recourse, the model of the theatrical exhibit was shattered into a million tiny pieces as Donna Langley (Universal), Ann Sarnoff (Warner Bros.) and other Big Wheels ultimately opted to either release their product exclusively via streaming platforms made popular by the likes of ROKU, or to at least drastically cut the theatrical window for releases, dropping their movies on streaming almost as soon as they saw some small light at whichever theatres happened to still be open. That option had always been there of course, but it was one that was usually reserved for the latest Corey Feldman flick, not a 200 million dollar action movie extravaganza. At any rate, it was a last minute Hail Mary…that totally worked. But now the genie was out of the bottle and many questioned – and are still questioning – whether or not theatrical distribution as we knew it pre-pandemic would ever be the same again.
The answer to that rather rhetorical question appears to be affirm and resounding “NO.” Announced via our compatriots at The Hollywood Reporter this morning is the news that Paramount+ plans to premiere at least one new movie a week throughout the entirety of 2022. The first test-model on this new way of doing business in Hollywood is not the new Feldman movie (although if Corey Haim were still with us I could totally be down for a Dream a Little Dream 3), but instead uber A-list director Antoine Fuqua’s big budget science fiction epic Infinite which stars Mark Wahlberg, which will eschew a theatrical release altogether in favor of streaming. No, it’s not your imagination; the world of film has definitely taken on an Alice in Wonderland quality: Things are getting curiouser and curiouser.
Paramount Big Wheel and CEO Bob Bakish announced all of this today, touting the Paramount+ movie release plan and saying that people love Mark Wahlberg and would support this movie and others that are either planned for exclusive tours on the streamer or that would premiere after an extremely short theatrical window. Upcoming films that are included in this new dynamic include Paranormal Activity, The In Between, A Quiet Place Part II and Paw Patrol.
“People love movies,” Bakish enthusiastically told a roomful of investors today as he touted the new plan going forward. Yes Mr. Bakish, we do love movies. But do you remember that we also really love our movie theatres? Here’s hoping that an already struggling theatrical exhibition system will endure perhaps something worse than even a pandemic – Corporate shortsightedness.