Has the age of the cinema come to an end? During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many theaters struggled to survive, it was widely predicted that movie viewing would shift to streaming services once and for all. As safety measures have relaxed, however, we’ve found that significant numbers of people still have an appetite for the big screen experience.
What’s more, wider changes affecting the industry in recent years, with the cost of good cameras and lighting equipment plummeting, mean that there are more movies being made now than ever before. As distributors are learning quickly, the key to success across both platforms is to use them in different ways.
A space for spectacle
When there’s a big blockbuster coming out and you want to enjoy it with all your friends, nothing is as exciting as watching it on the big screen. Some movies are designed to be big in every way and really benefit from a big sound system too, with dramatic music, breathtaking stunts, and spectacular action sequences.
Others deserve a big screen because of the way they use landscape. Lawrence of Arabia, for instance, maybe popular on the small screen but really comes to life when you can see David Lean’s sweeping desert vistas in full. Then there are special events. These have a long history, going right back to The Tingler in 1959 when secretly electrified seats gave audiences a thrill as they thought its monster was among them, but they’re now more popular than ever and take all sorts of forms, including special guest appearances and the provision of themed food or cocktails.
A place for discovery
Although theaters are a great place for entertainment, they can be a difficult place to find more niche content. There’s not usually much variety, and because movies are usually paid for individually, people are less inclined to take chances.
Streaming services offer much more opportunity to explore and find not just movies you enjoy, but movies you can fall in love with. If you like the thoughtful documentaries of Katharina Otto-Bernstein, the quirky comedies of the Coen brothers, or the visually saturated horror of Mario Bava, a good streaming service can not only find them for you but can make additional suggestions based on what other fans of those movies have chosen to watch.
If you’re interested in a niche area such as basketball movies or seventies spy thrillers, you can find collections of them to explore. As a subscriber, if you don’t like something, you haven’t lost anything if you ditch it 20 minutes in and try something else.
Access for all
Although most people now feel able to visit theaters in safety as long as they’re vaccinated, that’s still not the case for all. Some extremely vulnerable people are still being advised by their doctors to avoid public places. For these people, streaming services mean that access to the movies can continue.
When new movies open on both platforms at once, they can avoid being left out of conversations about them which friends are having online or in smaller, safer gatherings. The same is true for people who are housebound for other reasons or who find it difficult to get to the theater because they have care responsibilities or shift patterns that leave them free at the wrong times. Then there are all those rural dwellers whose nearest theater is 50 miles away and only shows two movies at a time. Streaming brings cinema to everyone.
Diverse talent, diverse stories
Since it costs a production team more to get a film in theaters, it’s difficult to do without significant investment, and investors, sadly, tend to follow formulas they know have worked before. This not only means that they’re unlikely to take a chance on different kinds of stories, it also means they don’t like to take chances on different kinds of people.
This has helped to keep some groups of people on the margins for a long time. Whether it’s female directors or Asian actors, it has been really hard for these groups to break through, and viewers have missed out on a lot of talent as a result. Now, thanks to more flexible investors focused on streaming content, they’re able to prove what they can do, build their reputations, and, in some cases, make it onto the big screen in due course.
The new hybrid festivals
One area where the inter-relationship of theaters and streaming has really taken off is film festivals. Hybrid viewing models developed during lockdown proved so successful that many have chosen to keep them going. Whether you’re looking for a thrilling, gala theater experience with stars in attendance or simply a chance to explore the best new titles from the comfort of your home, festivals are a great way to connect with cinema. They are demonstrating that hybrid models can not only work but that theater and streaming, working in tandem, are the way of the future.