The Continuing Shutdown of Movie Theaters
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Continuing Shutdown of Movie Theaters

2020 has been a strange time to be a movie lover and, so far, 2021 promises to be even stranger. Many states have health orders in place that either limit attendance at theaters or shutter them entirely, while Cineworld—owner of Regal Cinemas in the US and Cineworld theaters in the UK—has voluntarily closed its facilities for the foreseeable future. Several of this year’s biggest releases have been tentatively delayed into 2021. Others have been released to premium video-on-demand or streaming services as movie studios attempt to recoup some of the massive losses they’ve incurred due to novel coronavirus. In one of the most notable of those arrangements, Warner Bros. announced that it would release its entire slate of 2021 films on parent company AT&T’s HBO Max service. This completely eschews the traditional exclusivity window enjoyed by movie theaters, setting the stage for a potentially ugly public showdown between theater owners, filmmakers, and a corporate juggernaut.

Home theater owners, though, are uniquely positioned to make the most of this moment in history. Starting on Christmas Day 2020 with the release of Wonder Woman 1984, home theaters can (at least partially) join commercial movie houses in the elite echelon of first-run cinemas for the less-than-princely sum of $14.99 per month. Highly anticipated films like Denis Villeneuve’s adaption of Frank Herbert’s Dune can potentially bow on more home theater screens than the box office, at least in the US. Cinephiles have never been on such equal footing with theater owners, and it’s difficult to imagine people willingly surrendering that empowerment and freedom of choice once they’ve had a prolonged taste of it.

Home theater owners who have invested in concession equipment have also, in many instances, cornered the market on movie theater snacks. With so many commercial cinemas closed (voluntarily or otherwise), home theaters are the only place to find “the” popcorn, cotton candy, and case-warmed hotdogs that complete the movie-watching experience—or that just satisfy a craving for a little bit of junk food. Sure, store-bought Orville Redenbacher and Hebrew National products scratch some of that itch—but there’s nothing like the real thing.

In truth, home theater operators are some of the only people “thriving” in the current state of the film industry. We all hope to bask in the air-conditioned glory of our favorite commercial cinema sooner rather than later, of course. But knowing that some folks—home theater owners—are enjoying an unprecedented silver lining helps ease the loss of moviegoing and the social habits it promotes. We can still join with other fans virtually to talk about new movies, even if we watch them at home instead of on a “real” screen surrounded by the people who love the things that we love. This year, we take our victories where we get them.