There’s inevitably been much speculation about the future of film distribution and, specifically, the long-term role of cinemas after a year in which several big-name films made their debut as premium priced digital rentals or found new homes with streaming services as happened with Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America and Chris Pratt’s The Tomorrow War.
Others, including Wonder Woman 1984, debuted simultaneously on the big screen and as premium rentals, giving fans a choice of where they wanted to watch.
While it’s way too early to predict how these various methods of putting films in front of audiences will eventually coexist, recent research has revealed strong enthusiasm for the big screen experience and a keenness among audiences to return to their local multiplex.
A total of 72% of research respondents said they planned to return to the cinema within the first few months of re-opening, while 60% agreed with the sentiment that “the cinema experience cannot be recreated at home” thanks to its combination of “visuals and immersive sound” which exceed anything offered by even the most expensive TV, sound system and mood lighting set-up.
And even though many big-name titles have already found alternative distribution, there’s a big enough backlog of films to ensure audiences aren’t going to be short of things to watch over the next 12 months.
Daniel Craig’s swansong as James Bond in No Time to Die will finally see the light of day in September, the same month that the first instalment in the star-studded Dune adaptation debuts.
November is set to bring us two 80s sequels – Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Top Gun: Maverick – while December promises Spider-Man: No Way Home, which marks Tom Holland’s third standalone outing as the titular webslinger, as well as The King’s Man and The Matrix 4.
Before all those, July will bring us Scarlett Johansson’s return as Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow and Dwayne Johnson’s Jungle Cruise, while October sees Jamie Lee Curtis once again return as Laurie Strode in Halloween Kills.
The combination of eager audiences and a strong pipeline should herald good news for cinema chains such as Showcase, Cineworld and Odeon, the last of these being owned by US-based AMC Cinemas which, despite the challenges of the past year, has already seen its shares soar thanks to a rush of stock trading and spread betting after it became the latest ‘meme stock’.
However, there are limits to the good news as the concept of a dual cinema and premium rental release looks here to stay with several of the titles listed above, including Black Widow and Dune, already confirmed for this model.
Cinemas will also increasingly find themselves competing with the rise of studio-owned streaming services for which new chapters in already much-loved franchises can be commissioned to bring in subscribers – of the raft of new Star Wars properties announced last year, many are heading exclusively to Disney+ and will be available long before Rogue Squadron arrives in cinemas in December 2023.
Amazon’s recent $8.5bn acquisition of MGM looks likely to replicate this approach, with the streaming service highlighting plans to “reimagine and develop” MGM’s portfolio of franchises and Intellectual Property which includes the likes of Robocop, Stargate, and The Pink Panther.
But one franchise we know isn’t destined to shift wholesale to Prime Video is James Bond – MGM’s control over 007 is shared with Eon Productions and in a statement issued at the time of the Amazon deal, Eon bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson were very clear that their focus is on “making James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience.”
And it seems from criticism of Warner Bros’ decision to premiere films on its HBO Max streaming service that other filmmakers are equally passionate that their work belongs, at least initially, on the big screen – a stance which should please audiences and cinema operators in equal measure.