Saving the world on film has pro tips for saving your sanity as cinephiles hole up during the COVID-19 crisis.

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“It was like something out of a movie.”

That’s how a lot of disasters in real life have been described by people who have lived through them. After all, cinema has brought us into the eye of a hurricane, toward the epicenter of an earthquake, and even in close contact with Patient Zero of a pandemic in visceral terms.

Now the movie industry and movie lovers themselves are faced with a very movie-like crisis. The simple act of going to see a film in a theater is a strait of personal risk assessment for some and a non-starter for others. On the distribution side, popcorn flicks like Bloodshot and Trolls World Tour are scheduled for release within the next month, among the ranks of literally four dozen other titles, their destinies in the throes. Major studio releases including No Time to Die, A Quiet Place II, Mulan, and Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway have postponed release or optimistically moved their spring releases to later in the year. Films shot for the big screen now may never get that opportunity as they move directly to VOD.

There’s certainly reason for alarm in the movie industry, if purely from a bottom-line standpoint. With theaters shuttered, China’s box office has already endured hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for its theatrical business. According to THR, estimated global losses due to diminished ticket sales and delayed/canceled productions are in the $5 billion range; should the U.S. box office implode as it has in China and Italy, that already unfathomably large number is certain to balloon.

Though TV is easily watched on televisions and phones, cinephiles and filmmakers have grappled with the question of where a movie can be seen on top of what a movie is in times of technological disruption, from the VCR to HBO to the streaming wars. Now it’s a query of necessity as people are starting to practice “social distancing” and staying at home.

Then there other considerations such as financial investment, small screen vs. big screen, and quantity and genre. Film studios and movie theaters are grappling with these weights as they peer into the infinite. A major conglomerate like Disney could likely stomach the loss of a leader or two in the coming half-year; but could MGM (James Bond)? How important are theatrical runs to indies like A24 (Midsommar) or Neon (Parasite) in the long tail of their films’ lives? How many weeks could an AMC cineplex close up shop without going under? And could an Alamo Drafthouse or a Landmark Theatre afford to drop the gate at all? Even streaming leader Netflix — which bakes in theatrical runs for many of its originals and has gone so far as to lease movie venues in Los Angeles (the Egyptian Theatre) and New York (Paris Theatre) — integrates brick-and-mortar into its films’ lives.

Now it looks like most people are going to do the majority of their movie watching at home. For a while, at least. Families with children and their screen time philosophies will be threatened with disarray. Couples might go from “cozy” to “crazy” as streamer algorithms unfurl with a click. New habits will undoubtedly form during the COVID-19 pandemic, including how we watch movies. With any hope, perhaps some good habits will prevail.

Like any good end-of-the-world movie, there are some potential takeaways for film fans as they prepare for the virus:

  • Explore. You know that long list you keep in the notes app on your phone, the one you update with films that your friends with good taste tell you about, and you’re like, “I’ll check that out! Thanks!”? Watch all those.
  • Transport. Christmas movies will be as meaningful to watch with your mom in April as they did in December because you can still view them together (virtually). It’ll have all the same bittersweet holiday feels (and junk food).
  • Enhance. Take your brain to the spa and catch up on documentaries that will enrich your knowledge. International and nature films can widen your worldview.
  • Remember. Finally get around to watching “old movies” because they are “good for you” and will remind you of the reasons why you love the new films that you do.
  • Improvise. There may still be theaters open, so call them and see how they’re keeping patrons safe. Throw a virtual “premiere party” with your friends. Use social media to bring your movie-watching experience a little closer to home. Reach out to your favorite filmmakers and actors and see what you can do to be a hero and save the movies.
  • Escape. Disappearing into a great film is an excellent form of self-care.
  • Value. Embrace the fact that you can have high standards for art and entertainment. There are so many options out there. It’s okay to desire and expect worth out of pop culture and our entertainers. Learn what it feels like to bail out of a bad movie halfway, because life is short.
  • Hope. Keep track of the movies you want to see with (or recommend to) loved ones for after the storm passes.

Studios and theaters will have the coming weeks and possibly months to do their own form of soul-searching, to reevaluate priorities which may impact the movies they greenlight and the people with whom they do business. No doubt, what is happening to the movie industry right now will have an effect on what we watch for years to come. As film lovers hoard Costco toilet paper and flood the streaming queue with titles, remember that disaster and horror movies aren’t always about doom. They're a medium for ad-libbing, some version of “hold on,” stories of spectacular personal triumph over adversity, and — very often — a finale with a view into the future.

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