Patti Jenkins, the director of the Wonder Woman films, warned on Wednesday that the experience of going out to the movies could vanish entirely, as the coronavirus pandemic has forced cinemas to keep their doors closed.
The release of Jenkins’ latest film, Wonder Woman: 1984, has been delayed three times because of the pandemic, and is currently scheduled to appear in theaters in December. Other major releases, including the newest James Bond film No Time to Die and the highly-anticipated sci-fi adaptation Dune, have been pushed back to 2021.
Regal Cinemas, the second-largest movie theater chain in the U.S., announced Tuesday that it would close all of its 536 locations by Thursday.
“Despite our work, positive feedback from our customers and the fact that there has been no evidence to date linking any COVID cases with cinemas, we have not been given a route to reopen in New York, although other indoor activities – like indoor dining, bowling and casinos were already allowed,” Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Regal’s parent company Cineworld, said in a statement. “The prolonged closures have had a detrimental impact on the release slate for the rest of the year….As such, it is simply impossible to continue operations in our primary markets.”
In an interview with Reuters, Jenkins said that if theaters are not given aid by the government, the outlook for movie-going could be grim.
“If we shut this down, this will not be a reversible process,” Jenkins said. “We could lose movie theater-going forever.”
The first major blockbuster to be released in the U.S. during the pandemic was Tenet, earning over $20 million during Labor Day weekend. While the number may be impressive in the midst of the pandemic, Tenet‘s $45 million total earnings at the U.S. box office have spooked the cinema industry. (Tenet director Christopher Nolan’s previous film, Dunkirk, earned about $50 million at the U.S. box office during its opening weekend in 2017.)
Coronavirus tends to spread most easily indoors, which appears to have kept audiences from taking chances at movie theaters. South Korean news outlet Yonhap noted that there have been no known cases of coronavirus transmission at movie theaters in that country from February through September. However, attendance at South Korean cinemas also dropped during the same period by 70 percent, from 170 million people in 2019 to 48 million this year.
Jenkins noted that the ongoing closure of theaters could force Hollywood to invest primarily in home-streaming projects.
“It could be the kind of thing that happened to the music industry, where you could crumble the entire industry by making it something that can’t be profitable,” Jenkins said. The director lamented what could be the disappearance of movie-going entirely: “I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where the only option is to take your kids to watch a movie in your own living room, and not have a place to go for a date.”