Postpandemic moviegoing is going to be much different

Turns out COVID-19 isn't the only reason going to a movie theater might be a thing of the past. That is, unless changes are made.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
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  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
3 min read

One of the industries most affected by the pandemic has been the film business. Everything from shooting movies to the way they're released has changed. The most obvious example is how streaming services handle new films that would normally just get a theatrical run before being available online. HBO Max committed to release new movies online the same time they hit theaters. Disney will release the widely anticipated Marvel film Black Widow in theaters on July 9 and on Disney Plus for $30 through the service's Premier Access model, on top of a regular subscription. If brand new movies can be watched at home, then now what?

Russell Schwartz, a professor at the College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University and someone who worked on the marketing for films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, joined CNET Now What to break down what post-pandemic moviegoing looks like and the permanent changes the film industry will have to adopt.

There are many obvious consequences, from movie theaters shutting down to film and TV production coming to a halt. But the pandemic actually benefited the industry as well by changing the way people consume films and TV shows. They upgraded their home entertainment systems. Those who normally didn't watch smaller films in theaters had easy access to more independent and art house movies. And one of the most profound benefits is the uptick in viewership for films and TV shows made in their native language that are subtitled. Schwartz says that this increase is a real cultural shift.

"You cannot get anyone to go see a movie with subtitles in a movie theater anymore outside of a small dedicated art house audience," said Schwartz.

Our new habits for consumption likely won't go away anytime soon, but many of us will need a compelling reason to go back to a movie theater. Even before the pandemic, the main factors people considered before going out to a theater were whether a movie was good and where the theater was located. Most movie theaters are in malls and for decades benefited from the heavy traffic of people shopping and eating. But as online retail causes businesses and shops to close or relocate away from malls, Schwartz questions whether a movie theater can become a destination when there are no other places around it.

Mulan 2020

In 2020, Disney released Mulan both in theaters and made it available on its Disney Plus streaming service at an additional cost.


It's doubtful that malls will ever return to a level that benefits theaters. Instead, movie theater owners need to rethink the experience of going to see a film and make that more appealing. And it's not just things like reserved seating and comfortable chairs.

"Take those food courts that serve mostly franchise stuff, and turn them more gourmet, more farm-to-table," said Schwartz. "You have to change the environment for people to want to go out so it's not just about going to a movie theater. You have to make it more enticing."

Getting people back into a movie theater is only a part of what's needed for theaters to thrive. Decades-long business models also need to be updated to be more relevant. Some of that started to change during the pandemic. Revenue sharing for theater owners and studios now includes money made by streaming services. That helps out small independent films as much as it does large-budget movies. 

During our conversation, Schwartz discusses changes to film and TV production, CGI extras and the lure of freshly popped popcorn.

Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal." There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all. 

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