What will the cinema-going experience be like after lockdown?

What will cinema look like after lockdown?

Christopher Nolan's Tenet

We explore the shape of cinema to come, including industry impact, future releases and new productions

Everyone's hanging on for 17 July. From Sweden and Taiwan, where cinemas didn't close, through to China where cinemas were shut down by government decree, Christopher Nolan's Tenet, scheduled for that July release, will be the film to see when 'this is all over'. Given Nolan's love of cinema, it's a strange twist that his celluloid epic will be the first arrival to a shrivelled movie landscape laid waste by a novel virus. Tenet arrives like an angel with a flaming sword in her hand. Or so moviegoers hope.

Studios and major independents have moved titles to later this year, rescheduled for next year or made some titles disappear altogether. Some were shown before the cinemas closed – Disney's live action Mulan is scheduled to be released on 24 July, and those who attended its 'non-public' London premiere in March have said it's worth waiting for. Dream Horse is another that was extensively screened and, having seen it, this will be a feelgood winner in September.

Cinema re-openings will be slow and studios can't or won't release anything until they can be shown on the big screen. Even if they were prepared to open now, Hollywood studios can't release a major movie until it can play in major cities, and most US cities are currently on lockdown. But what do we have to look forward to when restrictions are lifted? Bond, of course. September also brings the eagerly awaited A Quiet Place II and lovely British comedy Blithe Spirit. Black Widow, meanwhile, has been moved to 6 November.

But August may be the peak of the summer, with The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run, Wonder Woman 1984 and on 21 August, the release of Bill And Ted Face The Music. That production has kept things upbeat by asking fans to submit their own videos to the movie's demo track for potential inclusion in the film, adding that you can still party on while social distancing.

What will cinema look like after lockdown?

The movie industry has lost at least $10bn in revenue from cinema closures alone, so it wants to get back to business as soon as possible. But that conservative estimate of loss depends on more than just bricks-and-mortar cinemas near you. 'It depends on when and how the Chinese cinema market re-opens. It is not just the lost months but also the titles that have gone to 2021 that won't save 2020,' says Patrick von Sychowski, co-founder of the industry-focussed site Celluloid Junkie.

The studios know that we all want to see things, but they have to recoup as much of their costs as possible, which means choosing the wisest market release. For that, they go to Gower Street Analytics, the leading company that specialises in determining optimal dates for major blockbusters and other titles. Its founder and CEO Dimitrios Mitsinikos says, 'The impact to the industry extends way beyond the financial losses. The typical theatrical calendar landscape has already changed beyond recognition and it is still rapidly evolving. A number of major blockbusters have moved out of Q2 to later days with some even moving to 2021.' He adds that algorithms do a great job, but humans are also essential to these kinds of predictions. 'What makes it possible for our platform to still function under these extreme market changes is that human knowledge and algorithms work[ing] together to create [more accurate] output.'

New productions destined for the big screen have also been put on hiatus. Given that UK studios were running at full pelt before cessation, that's one heck of a clog in the pipeline. Now under budgetary stress as well as time, and with new social distancing measures in place for crew (including talk of quarantining stars in with filmmakers for the duration), the steady torrent of new films we've taken for granted could be down to a trickle for some time. Filmmaking in general will have to become lighter, cheaper, slower and more careful. Location shooting may also become non-essential in the short term.

So cinema will not go away, but we can certainly expect it to have a different feel: there will be fewer people admitted to each screening, no crowding, apps for concessions and spaced-out socially distanced seating. You may find yourself in a sparsely attended first-run without people yapping or texting on their phones. Realistically, COVID-19 could result in only those who truly love the cinema making it to an actual movie theatre.

Of course, there will continue to be a slew of titles that were made to be streamed, or archive titles on Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+ and other streaming services. But, as many have found out after being stuck at home for weeks, there's nothing like the big screen. Nothing – not even the biggest home cinema – can take the place of what is rightly called a picture palace.

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