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Is This the End for Cinema?

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Volunteer, Paul Thompson, takes a look at the success of cinema at home.

Who’d have thought an animated Justin Timberlake film could spell the end for the cinema industry?

The highly anticipated Trolls sequel – Trolls: World Tour – was expected to be released in cinemas over Easter 2020. Although it did open in a limited number of cinemas, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Universal studios made the decision to also release it for digital rental the same day. And, according to NBCUniversal’s CEO Jeff Shell, this was a financial success and may be the future of film releases.

The idea that films may be released simultaneously in cinemas and for home rental has, understandably, angered cinemas to the extent where Odeon and Cineworld have both said they will no longer show any films made by the studio, meaning that the Jurassic World and Fast & Furious franchises will be absent from the two cinema giants.

So, is Shell right; is the future of cinema at home? From the filmmakers’ perspective, it makes a lot of sense. If people are willing to pay at least £5 each for a family of four to watch the film, they’d easily be willing to pay £15.99 to watch it in the comfort of their own home. As Shell said, the model has proved successful with Trolls, earning $100m by the end of April.

It also allows access to films to those who may find it otherwise difficult. Those with disabilities may struggle to access cinemas, and while most cinemas are very accommodating of this – with screenings for visually and hearing impaired people, and showings specifically aimed at autistic people – releasing films for home viewing will undoubtably make accessing the latest films much easier for disabled people. On top of that, parents won’t have to find a babysitter to be able to watch the latest films, housebound people won’t have to miss out, and those who simply live too far away from a cinema can still experience new films.

When you consider that most households have a fairly large TV with a fairly good display, and many also have decent sound systems and excellent internet, the future of films could indeed be at home.

Does this mean the end of the cinema? Probably not. While films can easily be watched at home, and in the case of children’s films it may be preferable to do so, some films deserve the big screen experience. Anyone who saw 1917 in cinemas will talk of how much of an immersive experience it is, following the heroes through seemingly a single take on a single camera. Watching this on a full-sized screen with surround sound means everyone in the cinema is fully immersed in this world. The Greatest Showman was a fairly good musical in itself, but it is turned into an epic event with the vibrancy that only a cinema can bring you. And having been to many a midnight release of Marvel films, as well as watching the series finale of Sherlock in the cinema, I know that watching something with 100 other fans at the same time makes for an incredible experience.

Cinemas may lose out on income through this decision, but the cinemas who adapt and evolve may thrive. In making filmgoing a true experience, people will still go out to watch films. And, by showing more independent films, live-streaming theatre productions, and hosting events, cinemas may be able to tap into new markets.

Realistically, with how big streaming services are now, the decision for film companies to release films simultaneously at home and in cinemas was a matter of not if, but when. However, it shouldn’t kill off the cinema.

Features image by Sarah Hannaford.

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