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Cohen: The Imminent Importance of Movies

How has the moviegoing experience bounced back after a year of empty theaters?
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

There were plenty of things we longed for in the dark ages of quarantine — concerts, getting together with friends, dining in an actual restaurant. For me, there was something I longed for that stood out from the rest: going to the movies.

While my mind fell into the stir-craziness of an anti-routine, I felt like seeing a movie was the one thing that could make life feel normal. I pictured myself in a deep-red leather lounge seat, equipped with popcorn, Bunch-A-Crunch and a ridiculously oversized soda. I would have my usual tissues bunched up in my pocket, ready for the inevitable tears that would flow, either from laughter or another devastating “La La Land”-esque ending. This was my happy place. I could forget about the worldwide pandemic, the unpredictability of online school and the stress of keeping my loved ones healthy.

So you can imagine how quickly I double-vaxxed in order to get myself into a theater seat.

The first movie I saw in theaters post-quarantine was “Stillwater,” a film starring Matt Damon (pocket tissues came in handy). As soon as the previews rolled, it all came back to me: the rush of nostalgia, the comfortable warmth of a dark theater, the collective experience of enjoying a new movie surrounded by strangers. No matter what had changed within the past year, moviegoing was back to its familiar ways.

But a worldwide pandemic does have its repercussions — so how have the movies come back from month-long blackouts?

With good reason, 2020 did not provide the quality entertainment that the movie industry has proved itself capable of. Production on several films was shut down by breakthrough cases, releases were pushed back and some projects were moved completely to streaming services. No matter how impactful movies like “No Time To Die” or “Tom and Jerry” would have been, they could not deliver on the small screen.

According to the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the film industry reported that theatrical revenue in 2020 plummeted to $12 billion, a whopping $30.3 billion less than 2019. This was devastating for all theaters, both the tycoons like Marcus and AMC as well as the smaller, local venues. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, as the end of 2021 numbers reported an expected global revenue of $21 billion. 2021’s overall box office revenue fell 60% behind 2019’s numbers, but still rose above 2020’s. So, in comparison, these numbers seem bleak, but they reveal one key to potential movie prosperity: audiences are eager to fill seats.

There are several factors that could be contributing to movie’s revival, whether that’s an overall decline in COVID cases, an overwhelming urge to return to normalcy, or an absolute need to see “Spider-Man: No Way Home” before hearing spoilers. The third installment of Marvel’s “Spider-Man” franchise obliterated records when it hit theaters, with an opening weekend grossing $260,138,569. Overall, it dethroned “Black Panther” as the sixth highest grossing film of all time, bringing in $1.69 billion at the global box office and proving that the simple cure to our years of quarantine fatigue was one kick-ass superhero story.

The success of “Spider-Man” dawned a new hope for the film industry just in time for award season. Acclaimed directors have returned with a post-Covid freshness, with fan-favorites such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Jane Campion and Wes Anderson all releasing highly anticipated films. Powerhouse actors such as Jennifer Lawerence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith and Kristen Stewart were all nominated for Golden Globes and stand as Oscar hopefuls. Production companies covered all genres, from sci-fi blockbusters like “Dune” to family-friendly sing-a-longs like Disney’s “Encanto”. Everything we lacked in 2020 came full-speed at us in 2021 as the movies took their rightful place as the titan of the entertainment industry.

With the ever-changing state of the world, my wish for cinema is that it doesn’t lose its newfound euphoric momentum. March’s Academy Awards loom over us, ready to provide the triumphs and upsets that can only come with a live televised event. This beacon in the distance encourages moviegoing and movie appreciation, giving the final push that audiences need to get back into theater seats.

When I went to the theater for the first time since quarantine, I noticed the posters lining the walls: “The Movies Have Missed You!”, “We Need You!”, “Movies Love You!”. I reached for the crumbled up tissues in my pocket, feeling overwhelmed with normalcy and relief. I realized the symbiotic element of the relationship between films and audiences: movies love us through everything life throws at us, and we can only repay them by doing the same.

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