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Covid-19: Is This Now the End of Movie Theaters?

By December 8, 2020No Comments

In a monumental landmark announcement, Warner Bros. will be releasing their upcoming slate of films on the streaming service HBO Max — begging the question: is this the end of the movie theater experience?

Some of these releases include blockbuster films such as the upcoming “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. King Kong,” the new “Space Jam,” “The Suicide Squad,” and “The Matrix 4” among many others.  

As an employee (or, ex-employee?) of a movie theater, the future of the industry has me worried. While the world awaits a resolution from this turbulent ordeal that is Covid-19, a huge question for us employees is whether or not they can survive and still be around post-pandemic. 

Sure, there is a vaccine on the horizon. But my prediction is there will be a lasting psychological effect on moviegoers and employees alike. The idea of sitting in a packed movie theater is like a horror movie in itself and if presented with the opportunity: why wouldn’t you stay home and watch new releases?  Likewise, the idea of working in this environment is also skin-crawling.

My favorite job working through college, though, has been at my local theater. I’ve done it all from cleaning dirty auditoriums after movies, to working the concession stand, to selling tickets, to greeting people. But my all-time favorite was bartending. 

I’ve seen the inner-workings of movie theaters for years now and there is a lot that needs to change. If the public was aware of the things left behind by those that lack common decency and etiquette, then they would be mortified.

I’m talking about the individuals who cut their nails in the theater and leave clippings on the floor, or the gross people who eat sunflower seeds and leave a napkin full of chewed shells in the cup holders for ushers to dig out, or the people who leave all their trash behind because it’s the “job of us employees to clean up.” 

Not to mention the items we find that are NSFW. But I’ll just let you imagine what that may include… 

What I’m trying to say is that I wouldn’t feel comfortable going back to work if it was hypothetically announced that all theaters were re-opening soon. Oftentimes as an usher, we’re barely given enough time as is to clean theaters in-between showtimes. Having to disinfect everything would take even more time, requiring a complete reworking of showtime schedules, the number of employees needed and the cleaning methods. 

The amount of times that I was the sole usher working on a busy shift, running from auditorium to auditorium in a panic to clean was way too many to count. But working in a movie theater isn’t all that bad because the positives outweigh the negatives that just come with the nature of working in the service industry. 

Aside from the free movies, the ability to connect with others about my passionate love of films was a huge draw. And as a viewer, though, watching these upcoming epic films at home, starting with “Wonder Woman: ’84” on Christmas Day, doesn’t have the same appeal as seeing them in their intended format: on the big screen with a crowd of like-minded fans.  

There’s something about seeing movies with an audience that can’t be replaced. Imagine not being in a crowd when (spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame” — but why haven’t you seen that film already?) Captain America finally wields Mjolnir or assembles the Avengers. Or remember what it was like when the opening crawl for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” started and the roaring cheers of the crowd could be heard outside of the semi-soundproof walls. 

These are some of my favorite communal experiences. Even when I was supposed to be working and it wasn’t busy, I would often find myself sneaking away to watch my favorite moments with different crowds because nothing beats that first reaction. There is a palpable feeling in the air.  

But we’re in a different world now. We’re in a world where that palpable feeling could be carrying Covid-19. Where it’s a health risk to gather in large groups — especially indoors. Not only that, but movie theaters are facing bankruptcy after losing almost an entire year’s revenue at the time of this publishing. 

So, is Warner Bros.’ announcement the final nail in the coffin? Do they see the inevitable writing on the wall? One hopes not. They did announce, after all, that the films will be releasing concurrently in theaters, wherever open. But who knows how long it will take for the majority of the public to feel comfortable sitting in packed crowds. 

I personally know the amount of rude, selfish individuals who frequent movie theaters and have cleaned enough dirty auditoriums to know that people can’t be trusted to convene publicly in an enclosed environment until it’s safe enough to do so. But, damn do I miss that experience. 

According to an article published by Variety, sources close to the situation say that Legendary Entertainment, who co-financed “Godzilla vs. King Kong” and “Dune,” is opening a dialogue with Warner Bros. about the announcement and said that possible legal action is on the table if the two don’t come to an agreement on the issue. So, there’s still a lot to play out at the time of this writing which will be updated as the story progresses.

It should also be mentioned that this is another step in the everlasting battle for our attention between film and its rival — the sinister television. Since its invention, the television has been a thorn in the side of the behemoth film industry, which is now more globalized than ever. 

Now, the exhibition industry faces what could be the devastating blow and it’s possible that their hull is now breached if it wasn’t already. Those of us employed by movie theaters are powerless as we await to see how the future will play out and whether we will sink or stay afloat. 

Damn you, Covid-19.