Why older viewers could be the saviors of cinema
Cinemas resume their activities. Nearly two years into the pandemic, debt-ridden cinema exhibitors who have kept their projectors in mothballs are suddenly making very optimistic noises about their prospects for 2022. These exhibitors have just seen Spider-Man: No Coming Home smash their way to worldwide ticket sales of over $1.5 billion despite Omicron’s rise to prominence. They were also encouraged by the intense debate among Hollywood studio bosses over what to do with the movies. Studios may have made huge investments in VOD platforms lately, but most have concluded that their highest budget offerings need to be seen on the big screen.
Certainly, the curse of Covid still persists. Pixar announced last week that its latest animated feature, become red, will premiere on the Disney+ platform in March. The title may sound dark and ironic as exhibitors contemplate their balance sheets after months of empty auditoriums. This, however, will likely be one of the last studio blockbusters to bypass theaters.
Later in the year, Hollywood will bombard audiences with massive new releases. The Robert Pattinson version of Batman; Morbius; Doctor Strange: Into the Multiverse of Madness; Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets; Top Gun: Maverick; Wick jeans 4; Jurassic World 3; Black Panther: Wakanda Forever; the flash and Thor: Love and Thunder are just a few of the big franchise movies that should be making their way to screens near you.
Finally, the controversial issue of the so-called theatrical “window” (the period during which films can be seen exclusively in cinemas) is about to be resolved. A generation ago, viewers would have to wait months to get their hands on a dirty VHS of Schwarzenegger or Stallone’s latest action flick and years for it to appear on TV afterwards. Now, partly thanks to Covid, we have entered a new era of flexibility and common sense. Movie theater operators – who once would have protested furiously and thrown all their popcorn out of the pram if they didn’t have new films exclusively in their theaters – are adapting. In the UK, the Bond film no time to die grossed an astonishing $130 million at the box office despite being available online and on DVD just weeks after its theatrical release.
Even Netflix, so long viewed with paranoia and naked disgust by exhibitors due to its aggressive online strategy, now regularly offers limited theatrical releases to its suitors, with films like The power of the dog, God’s hand, The lost girl and Tick, tick… Boom!
The consensus is that everyone still needs cinema. The existential threat to its very existence conjured up during the darkest days of Covid has been averted. Why then should moviegoers be so worried? You just have to ask bradley cooper Where Rita Moreno.
Cooper gives a memorably sly, smooth and charming performance as the crook’s anti-hero in Guillermo del Toro’s dark new drama, alley of nightmares. Not so long ago, he was crowned “the sexiest man alive” by People magazine, but whatever pheromones he’s currently putting out, they’re not attracting swarms to rooms. alley of nightmares was supposed to be one of the most high-profile movies of the year, a surefire Oscar contender. Instead, it grossed a measly $9 million at the US box office, less than a sixth of the $60 million it cost.
As for the venerable Rita Moreno, her presence was meant to enshrine Steven Spielberg’s 60th anniversary remake of everyone’s favorite gangland musical, West Side Story. The legendary Puerto Rican-born actor co-starred in the 1961 original. Now 90, she was back on screen as the elderly but still glamorous owner of the convenience store who plays a pivotal role in the plot of the film. With Moreno’s involvement and blessing, Spielberg’s shot seemed like a huge hit…until it wasn’t. When the bean counters added up the numbers, they discovered that Spielberg’s latest masterpiece limped to $53 million at the worldwide box office. The movie was made for $100 million – and that’s not even including marketing costs.
Just before the pandemic, when South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s horror-comedy film Parasite won Oscars and made millions at the box office, it seemed to herald a brave new era in which international indie dramas would also have a place on the big screen. Now, however, big Hollywood films – superhero movies, action pictures and animated features – are more dominant than ever. Smaller, less mainstream images are squeezed out. This was underscored last year when Oscar-winning actress Chloe Zhao nomadland made less than $4 million at the US box office.
Nor is it conceivable that high-end UK-made period dramas like The King’s Speech (2010), starring Colin Firth as the stuttering King George VI, could gross over $420 million at the worldwide box office. In 2022, such movies would likely head straight to a streaming service.
Moviegoers will have had very mixed feelings about the latest predictions about the future of the medium from James Cameron (one of the most successful filmmakers of all time) and industry titan Bob Iger, who has just left his Disney boss duties.
Cameron (addressing his fellow filmmaker Denis Villeneuve in an interview in a specialized newspaper Variety last month) agreed with the Dunes director that the cinema offered something that simply could not be replicated at home – namely a “roller coaster, an immersive experience”.
Iger, meanwhile, also recognized the “real value” of the common shared experience of cinema. However, he argued that “only certain films, not all films” should be “shown on the big screen”. Like Cameron, he seems to envision a future in which movie theaters are similar to theme parks – places where you venture out for show, scale, popcorn and hi-jinks. Fewer but bigger movies would come out. The place of independent films in this model is not at all clear.
It is also uncertain when older moviegoers, who once made up a significant portion of the audience, will return to theaters. For some reason they don’t buy tickets.
In the United Kingdom, distributors react with extreme nervousness to their absence. Late last week, Universal suddenly pulled the release of Joe Wright’s new musical version of Cyrano with Peter Dinklage (which was originally due out this Friday). It’s a film that will appeal precisely to the population that should have been attracted by West Side Story. Cinemas in the UK remain open but this group has, for the time being, disappeared.
Even like Cyrano has been pulled from the programmes, Paramount is blithely continuing its massive UK release this week of a comedy film Scream, the latest in the series that horror masters Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson began in the mid-90s. This suggests that either young viewers with an appetite for gore aren’t bothered by Covid at all, or that the movie is so scary the only sure way to see it is with a crowd.
While Scream and Spider Man prosper, The Duke, the last feature Roger Michell directed before his untimely death last year, is another high-class British film that has gathered dust. Toast of the Venice Film Festival in 2020, it features superb performances from Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. This is a witty, poignant and very well-watched comedy-drama in the style of Ealing about a Geordie taxi driver involved in the theft of Goya’s painting of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery. No one, however, will mistake it for a Marvel movie. It was originally due to be released last autumn, but its distributors lost their temper when they realized the more mature British moviegoers were still in hiding. The Duke will now be released at the end of February, on the exact same date as Cyrano.
Before Covid it was all about the ‘silver pound’ and ‘how older viewers are saving cinema’. There was a steady stream of winners like Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Philomena, often starring British cinema’s box office secret weapon, Dame Judi Dench. It is an exaggeration to suggest that cinema has again become exclusively the pastime of a young person. Nevertheless, UK exhibitors clearly have their work cut out to attract a wider range of customers. If they don’t, the whole sector will suffer, because the supply of films available on the big screen becomes scarce. Dame Judi returns to theaters this month in Kenneth Branagh’s superb autobiographical drama Belfast, but it remains to be seen if his senior superpowers can bring back older punters.