Possibly one of the industries most crippled by the shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic is the entertainment industry, including the business of exhibiting movies on the silver screen.
As my colleague Bob Hoge wrote on Tuesday, all is not well in LaLa Land post-pandemic (see: “A Hollywood Ending? September Box Office Plunges to Lowest Level in 25 Years”), with major theater chain AMC’s recent announcement it will show this season’s Thursday Night football games for free on screens at select theaters. Meanwhile, according to the ad I saw, they hope to entice viewers by touting the concession stand offerings and ample free wifi for fans to check on their fantasy teams in the lobby. (Most people know that theaters actually make their money from concessions sales, not how many people purchase movie tickets.)
To linger on AMC’s woes for a moment, some of the damage they’ve suffered was completely self-inflicted. The company chose not to reopen its locations until studios returned to churning out new movies, according to the Hollywood Reporter in late April 2020. And the theater chain went through major changes at the top this February, which likely only slowed its ability to follow through on any plans already in place to make a recovery.
One way several theater chains tried to goose recovery was a one-day, special discount admission of $3 on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Touted as falling on fake holiday National Cinema Day, exhibitors showed the usual, new releases, including in the premium, IMAX format, along with re-released or recut older titles; the offering, over a weekend that is usually a dud annually, managed to draw record attendance for 2022, CNBC reported:
Movie theaters pulled in $24.3 million in ticket sales from the National Cinema Day promotion, according to Comscore. The media analytics company said that was a 9% increase from the previous week.
As Bob pointed out, it seems the theater sector’s attempts at luring back in-person movie goers are bearing (limited) fruit, with the weird hybrid of the old and new:
To illustrate the problem, a re-release of Avatar—now over 14 years old—came in at number three over the weekend.
But the rest of ’22 and beyond appear less rosy for movie theaters, if a look at the year’s remaining release schedule is any indication. Sadly, what movie goers have to look forward to, for example, is a film like “The Whale, which has already been lauded on the festival circuit at the Venice Film Festival. This is Darren Aronofsky’s latest picture, starring the handsome Brendan Fraser as a grotesque, well, whale of a man:
He plays Charlie, a man of many hundreds of pounds who sits all day long in his shabby dank apartment in a small town in Idaho. Fraser has been outfitted with a digital fat suit (the effects that bulk him up are a blend of prosthetics and CGI), and the result is that we see someone who looks at home in his flesh. The sloping jowls that consume his neck, the big wide back and gigantic jelly belly that spills down over his crotch, the arms and legs that are like meat slabs — Charlie is a mountain of a man, but he’s all of a piece. Fraser, with sweaty thinning hair plastered on his scalp, resembles an overstuffed Rodney Dangerfield.
Sounds uplifting, huh? But that’s the usual fare that grabs the attention of awards season voters. Remember when they gave the Best Picture Oscar to one of the most woke films of all time, “The Shape Of Water,” with the central storyline involving intimate relations with a…fish-man?
But they’re even falling down at these premier industry events in 2022. Netflix is already beating the traditional movie companies at their own game, according to the Hollywood Reporter, by getting more of its movies tapped to compete on the festival circuit than theirs–while the streamer still refrains from scheduling wide releases for its titles in theaters. Many of the films adored by critics in these showcase events go on to take home Golden Globe awards and Academy Award statuettes.
“The Fabelmans” (Nov. 11): The New York Post‘s review of the Steven Spielberg co-written and helmed movie calls it “the best movie of the year so far.” It’s “based on the famed director’s own life, and stars [Golden Globe winner Michelle] Williams, Paul Dano and Seth Rogen.”
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Nov. 11): Boston.com [linked above] describes the movie as “tak[ing] place following the death of King T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman), with Wakanda leaders facing a series of invading threats seeking to take advantage of the power vacuum. Featuring a number of Marvel veterans including Letita Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke.”
“Spirited” (Nov. 11): A musical version of “A Chrismas Carol,” this boasts a bevy of big names, including Ryan Reynolds as Ebeneezer Scrooge, and two of the (mostly unwelcome) spirits played by Will Ferrell and Octavia Spencer.
“The Son” (Nov. 11): Time magazine [linked above] calls this drama “Florian Zeller’s follow-up to 2020’s The Father casts Hugh Jackman as a dad who, after unexpectedly reuniting with his teenage son, finds himself contemplating his own relationship with his father.”
“The Menu” (Nov. 18): This comedy is also tapped by Time: “Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult play a couple who travel to an exclusive restaurant run by a celebrity chef (played by Ralph Fiennes) whose tasting menu is full of surprises in the deliciously dark comedy where the rich might actually get eaten.”
On December 16, we seem to come full-circle with a new “Avatar” movie from James Cameron, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” via Boston.com:
Set more than a decade after the 2009 film, the plot synopsis for “Avatar: The Way of Water” is vague, stating only that it tells the story of the Sully family (Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver).
Lastly, if you’re looking for a musical biography, there’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (Dec. 21), about–you guessed it– the late, great Whitney Houston.
You can check out more movies on those voluminous lists at the links above.
Here are some of the movies you can take in during October, so you won’t have to wait until the window of November to Christmas Day, when companies like to drop their releases for optimum visibility for the awards–and by families looking for holiday entertainment in a darkened room.