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While Theaters Are Having Spotty Success, One Glaring Issue Remains

Movie Theaters Struggle
Larry D. Moore (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Free Guy” opened this weekend to surprising success by all box office estimations. The Ryan Reynolds film put up an impressive 28.4 million dollars. It is especially surprising because while it is a Disney film, it has been touting its status as an original piece of new intellectual property with no built-in fan base.

While “Free Guy” marks another successful premiere weekend in the post-pandemic era, following up impressive showings like Marvel’s “Black Widow” and “F9,” it would be a stretch to say that the theater industry is in the clear. In fact, “Free Guy” may only be able to attribute its surprising success to the fact that it is one of the first major blockbusters of the summer that didn’t simultaneously debut on a streaming platform like HBO Max or Disney+.

While this may have been part of why it exceeded expectations, it is still a good sign on the whole. Perhaps more companies like Disney will be encouraged to give their films a proper theatrical release. Wim Wenders, the acclaimed director behind “Paris, Texas,” recently expressed his fears about the modern theater industry at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

He told Variety that cinema was in the midst of an “existential crisis.” More specifically, the pandemic rapidly accelerated the normalization of streaming films from the comfort of home rather than getting out to the theaters for the traditional group experience. His sentiment is backed by recent data in moviegoing.

Variety’s Rebecca Rubin points out that while there have been several successes this summer, the key demographic of movies like “F9” and “Free Guy” have been men over the age of 18. What theaters are distinctly lacking, is families — likely due to the fact that younger children are not encouraged to get vaccinated. Streaming from home is simply safer, and theaters are feeling the consequences in their concessions sales among other things.

While box office numbers aren’t detrimental, the combination of streaming, lack of families, and the Delta variant (or Lambda — which is it now?), the ice beneath the theater industry is thinner than ever. Especially if you’re vaccinated, maybe skip the HBO Max viewing of “The Suicide Squad” and get out to the theaters to see it in all its glory.