What does the future of movies look like?
Would people leave their homes to see an angry Russell Crowe? That’s the question Solstice Studios CEO Mark Gill prompted in May when his mini-studio announced that the release date for its first film, the Crowe-starring road-rage thriller Unhinged, was being pushed up from Sept. 4 to July 1. This meant the movie would be the first major release to arrive in cinemas when they reopened after the expected curbing of the COVID-19 outbreak, putting it ahead of Warner Bros.’ Tenet (which was set to be released July 17). “When Mark Gill explained it to me, he accompanied it with a stack of research,” Crowe told EW in mid-June. “It said the thing people were most missing is the cinema. The second part of that research was ‘What do you want to see?’ and the biggest answer was ‘thriller.’”
That research has yet to be tested. As we now know, the virus was not curbed, and with cases spiking again, Warner Bros. pushed the release of Tenet to the end of July and then Aug. 12, while Solstice announced that Unhinged would not come out until July 31. On Monday of this week, Warner Bros. announced that the studio had decided to delay Tenet again because of the pandemic. The studio did not set a new date for Nolan's film although Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich said in a statement that a new 2020 release date would be shared "imminently." Regardless, the example set by Warner Bros. seems likely to be followed by other studios, meaning that the already much-truncated summer movie season may well evaporate altogether.
So what can be said with certainty about the future of moviegoing? The studios are doing their best to ensure there is one. Work was restarted at Pinewood Studios in the U.K. on Jurassic World: Dominion while Keanu Reeves has traveled to Berlin to continue shooting the fourth Matrix movie. The productions will be much changed from the ones that were shut down in March, thanks to a raft of proposed industry safety protocols that involve regular coronavirus screening and, whenever possible, physical distancing of cast and crew. When EW spoke to Reeves shortly after he arrived in Germany, the actor had no doubt that on-set life would be very different until a vaccine is available. “I don’t know really [what’s going to happen] because I haven’t started yet,” Reeves said. “But I’m sure it’ll be slower.” The pandemic may have less of an effect on screen, however. “I do think there will be a lot of scripts about the social changes going on because that feels like a very important issue,” says Dolemite Is My Name co-writer Larry Karaszewski. “There may be a lot of pandemic scripts being written, but I don’t know how many will be made.”
COVID-19 will definitely affect the way we see films when we finally do get the chance to watch them in theaters. “Nearly all seats are going to be purchased online, and we will automatically buffer seats around you,” says Mark Zoradi, CEO of the Cinemark chain. “The theaters are not only clean but they sparkle, and of course there’s going to be hand sanitizers and the seat wipes and all of those kinds of things. I think people are going to come back and feel, ‘These guys really paid attention.’ We need to do it if we want to encourage people to come back to the movies.” (Cinemark will also require face masks in its theaters.)
That’s not good enough for Dr. Anne W. Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “We need to be socially distant, we need to be wearing masks, we need [to be] avoiding commonly touched surfaces, and that’s very hard to do in a theater setting,’’ says Rimoin. “How safe is it really? I, as an epidemiologist, would prefer a drive-in.”
Well, now you’re just making Russell Crowe sad.
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