Movie theater industry in a COVID-19 bubble

Harkins Theatre in Flagstaff back in operation since August 28th, 2020. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movie theater industry has had its ups and downs, but managed to stay afloat. Due to the shutdown by state and federal officials, local residents cannot go out for a night at the movie theater unless theaters are open in their area. It is now a question of what the future will be for the movie theater industry and what role streaming services play in it. 

NAU creative media and film professor,Paul Helford said the pandemic has not hurt the movie theater industry that much because streaming services have seen a boom in business. He also said this is due to people never losing the want to be entertained. 

“At this point, a few major theaters have filed for bankruptcy,” Helford said. “AMC Theatres has escaped bankruptcy and received a crash infusion from investors. B&B Theatres, the sixth-largest in the movie theater industry said back in October 2020 that they were a few months away from bankruptcy. 

Helford also said streaming services won’t put people out of work in the industry and that jobs will still be available, adding that a student of his who works at Pixar now works in its streaming division and produces content for Disney+.

Janna Jones, a creative media and film professor at NAU who has studied movie theaters for years, said they will always survive and since the 1950s, people casted doubts on how long theaters would be around.

“There was this fear that television and cable networks would replace movie theaters and that did not happen,” Jones said. “People still like to go out to see a movie because you cannot  beat the experience of the movie theater.”

Jones also said movie theaters hold a special place in people’s hearts, which is why they will continue to go once the pandemic is over. Part of the movie-going experience, Jones said, is being in a room full of strangers while experiencing the emotions of a film together.

Sophomore creative media and film major Luke Gil said even when COVID ends, consumers will still continue streaming since it has its benefits.

“Movie theaters in general will probably not be the same after COVID  mainly for major chain theaters like Harkins and AMC,” Gil said. “But I don't necessarily think it will remove certain theaters like independent movie theaters.” 

He also said streaming will have a big effect on the theater industry because these services offer more availability for new films to be released on them than ever before. 

Gil said he’s troubled by HBO choosing to release its entire 2021 film lineup on its streaming service HBO Max because of the uncertainty of how it will enable filmmakers to make money in the long run.

“There is also the possibility that maybe the streaming service concept may not stay as long, as we might realize just because of how financially viable it actually is for the company,” Gil said. “That is something you will have to see in the future, but what it seems right now is that their goal is to see how much profit they can make.”

According to The Arizona Republic, Governor Doug Ducey sent an executive order to close down Harkins and other theaters on March 20, 2020. Currently Harkins has reopened its theaters across the state and has been back in business since Aug. 28, 2020.