More than 100 years ago, the New York Times published a story titled “No New ‘Movies’ Till Influenza Ends." The story described the spread of the Spanish Flu across the United States.
Today, as another pandemic spreads, the future of movies is again being questioned. But unlike 1918, many new American movies have been released during the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of the films, however, did not arrive in theaters. Instead, they were released on streaming services, which permit people to watch movies on television through the internet.
Until now, the new releases were small productions, not the big budget films Hollywood depends on to make profits. But that is changing.
Last month, the Walt Disney Co. experimented with the $200 million movie Mulan. The film was released on its streaming service. Disney will also release the Pixar film Soul on December 25 on its streaming service. And WarnerMedia said last week that Wonder Woman 1984 would be released on HBO streaming and to theaters at the same time.
Much remains unknown about how the movie business will survive the pandemic. But it has become increasingly clear that Hollywood will not be the same. Just as the Spanish Flu changed the movie business by shrinking the number of moviemakers, COVID-19 is remaking Hollywood. It is reorganizing an industry that has already seen major changes over the past 20 years.
Long-time producer Peter Guber is president of Mandalay Entertainment and the former chief of Sony Pictures. “It will be a new studio system. Instead of MGM and Fox, they’re going to be Disney and Disney+, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, HBO Max and Peacock,” he said. All of those companies have streaming services.
Many of the changes in 2020 are related to the pandemic, but not all. Several studios are creating new business deals and partnerships because of streaming.
The conglomerate WarnerMedia owns Warner Bros., which was founded in 1923. It is run by Jason Kilar, who formerly ran the Hulu streaming service. Last month, Disney head Bob Chapek announced a reorganization of the company to strengthen its streaming operations.
Universal Pictures is owned by the conglomerate Comcast. It pushed hard to change its longtime agreement with theaters that movies must be shown for three months before they can be streamed. Now, it is only 17 days.
Many see the pandemic speeding up changes that have been coming for 20 years.
Chris Aronson is head of distribution for Paramount Pictures.
“All this stuff that’s going on now in the business was going to happen, the evolution is just happening faster than it would have. What would have taken three to five years is going to be done in a year, maybe a year and a half,” he said.
Meanwhile, big media companies are fighting for popularity in the streaming market. Right now, the market’s top players are Netflix and Amazon. Other streaming services - including Hulu, Disney, Apple and others – are seeking to expand their share in the highly-competitive market.
The second-level players see the pandemic as an unusual chance to expand their growth.
Paramount and Sony Pictures do not have their own streaming services to show their movies. Instead, they have sold some of their movies to Netflix or Amazon. Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America 2 went to Amazon for a reported $125 million. Paramount is holding some of its big budget films until 2021.
Director Patty Jenkins made Wonder Woman 1984 for WarnerMedia. The company has decided to release the movie for streaming in the United States, but for theaters in Europe and China.
“At some point you have to choose to share any love and joy you have to give, over everything else,” Jenkins wrote on Twitter.
“The way movies are made and distributed, certainly at the studio level, has been really in need of change and hopefully this will bring it on. But when people hear that, it’s like… now theatrical is dead. I personally feel that’s garbage,” said Ira Deutchman. He is an independent film producer and a Columbia University professor.
Deutchman believes that after a year or so of virus-related restrictions, people will be happy to leave their homes and visit a theater. But, the days of the billion-dollar movie, like 1997’s Titanic, may be over.
“If you’re going to be in this business, no matter what you do or where it plays - whether it’s streaming or in cinemas - you’re going to make hits and you’re going to make flops,” says Mandalay’s Guber. “The idea is to make more hits than flops.”
I’m Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.
Words in This Story
conglomerate – n. a large company with many different areas of financial interest
distribution – n. the act of sending something to a business or organization
evolution – n. the slow movement of things
joy – n. great happiness
garbage – n. things that are thrown away, or a stupid idea
flop – n. a book, play or movie that is considered a financial failure