This is as good as the movies will do

Are you one of those people who hates Hollywood because Hollywood only serves superhero movies and sequels… most of which are superhero movie sequels?

Well, here is some encouraging news: Two of the highest grossing movies of 2022 are romantic comedies: The Lost City, starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum and a family movie about a man and his dog. That would be Dogstarring Channing Tatum.

AHA! You say: But I like serious dramas. Τικά moving dramas I can see with my family starring Channing Tatum. Well, Hollywood covers you here too: Netflix The Power of the Dog – a somewhat cheerful western – was the top nominee for Best Picture at last month’s Oscars. And, of course, Apple Coda, a moving story about a family of fishermen from Massachusetts, won the Oscar. Zero Tatums there.

Still not convinced about the health and scope of the film industry? Here’s the truth: You should not be.

While some people who have invested in cinema insist that there is a future where many people see all kinds of movies in cinemas, most sober observers believe the ship has sailed, with the strange exception. Channing Tatum can only play in so many movies a year.

Which means movies in cinemas are specialized programming now. Oversized niches, rest assured. But the era when everyone went to the cinema is over.

“Apart from horror, superheroes and family, you have to feel like the most spectacular, special event” to get people to see a movie in a movie theater, says producer Jason Blum. This is good for Blum, whose Blumhouse Productions specializes in horror movies, people still leave their homes to see, like Get out and The purge.

Okay. But what about the wonderful streaming future that is currently appearing on our giant, cheap home TVs? Beyond all the Oscar-nominated films on offer, there are more wonderful things than ever before – from traditional television networks like AMC (Better Call Saul returns next week) and streamers like Apple (I’m very interested Cut) and hybrids like HBO Max (at first I did not bother Win time, but now I am).

But there is a problem there as well: This surplus of great content flow is literally an exaggeration and no one in the business thinks it will last forever. The giant tech and multimedia companies financing the explosion of production have no intention of doing so in perpetuity. Right now, they are telling themselves that they are in a state of land grabbing as they try to compete with each other and attract paying subscribers. But once the borders are settled, they plan to return to something like a normal operation, where they do not throw money at anyone with a script.

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So. We are looking to a future where 1) most movies screened in cinemas will be made for an audience that goes to the cinemas – that means young people who like superheroes, young people who like to be scared and families with children who need to leave the house and 2) everything else is intended for home monitoring. But, in the end, there will not be as many of these things as there are now.

How should you feel about that? “You must be feeling really good,” Jason Kilar, WarnerMedia’s former boss, told me during his tour earlier this month. “I think it’s a very positive development, for two reasons,” he said. “[One] is a model that allows more aggressive investments in romantic comedies and dramas and [two] “Giving the consumer the choice, I think, is ultimately good.”

And, do I somehow agree with Kilar? Yes, I treasure my memories of going to the movies with family and friends, and picking up my kids is still fun. But the main thing I like about movies is the movies. And, for now at least, I have access to more great movies than ever available at the touch of a button. For no money at all. Who cares how I see them? (And if that bunch of things disappear, someone will keep doing nice things, right? I mean, Steven Soderbergh is playing with Web3?)

But even that fills me with despair. Going to the movies – with friends, with strangers – and enjoying something together in the dark for a few hours is a very specific experience, and it takes away from me. And from us: We are a country that does many things the same, but we do not do many things together anymore. We are asynchronous and alone. Movies were an exception to that.

How did we get here? Slowly, then at the same time: Yes, the pandemic has forced movie studios, out of desperation, to release films they may have once tried to put in theaters. Most importantly, the pandemic allowed studios to do something they wanted to do forever: shrink the time window between movie debuts and the time you can watch them at home.

You used to have to wait three months to see a movie at home. Even then, you had to buy it on DVD or pay to download it. The industry standard is now a 45-day delay – so you can watch them on a streaming service you may already be subscribed to, such as Disney + or HBO Max. Not exactly for free, but close enough – and, as Lightspeed Partners analyst Rich Greenfield notes, enough to create a very strong cycle: If it’s not a movie you’re dying to see in a movie theater, you can reward your inaction and take it home weeks later. Which makes the studios even less likely to try to do anything other than a slam dunk in the theater in the beginning.

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But our big entertainment clubs had moved us so long before we heard about Covid. As journalist Ben Fritz explained in his book The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Moviesyou can leave many of them at the feet of former Disney CEO Bob Iger.

After taking over in 2005, Iger decided that Disney, which used to make all kinds of movies from its various studios (Beautiful woman was it a Disney movie? so it was Rushmore) would only make aspiring franchise films related to Disney-owned properties: Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar. This strategy worked spectacularly and forced most of Iger’s competitors to try to emulate him, with event films associated with characters and stories that people had already heard. This is why Sony, which has resisted the Iger mode for years, has retired and is now almost Spider-Man Studio. And why Warner Bros. ‘ The future depends on whether you want to see another Batman movie. (It turns out, yes.)

Around the same time, cable television networks, led by HBO but followed by FX and AMC, leaned heavily on sophisticated, daring dramas and comedies that were delivered at home. It became a cliché to say that I like TV shows The Sopranos and Breaking Bad It was actually a feature film that happened to last for tens of hours, but it was true. Also true: You did not leave your couch to see them.

In recent years, heterogeneous activity groups have been doing even more to make sure you do not have to leave your home. They created new streaming services and filled them with… things: Serial dramas, teen rom-com and feature films that you may have seen in an older theater. Netflix, which all major multimedia companies are trying hard to emulate, releases at least one new movie a week.

But remember: There is no way all the streaming services you can choose from today will be in order. Now that Discovery, Inc. acquired WarnerMedia, for example, industry observers expect Discovery to merge its own streaming service with Warner’s HBO Max, and we are sure to see more integration eventually, especially between minority companies such as Paramount and AMC. As the number of competitors shrinks, so will the cost. “It will definitely happen,” says Blum. “The level of spending at the moment is not sustainable in the long run.”

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Which is a version of the future that does not excite me at all: A theater economy that only supports very specific types of films and far fewer options than I currently have.

And even this version is not a given. Audiences for these movies have so many competitive ways to kill time, starting with the computer in their pocket, offering unlimited TikToks and other diversions for zero dollars. So enjoy it as long as you want to do it. And for Channing Tatum? He is shooting another film – his third film magical Mike Stripper series – but you will not be able to see it in cinemas. It is supposed to be shown exclusively on HBO Max.


Thanks again for reading this column, for telling other people about it, and for considering my request for advice and comments. Like this reader, who is familiar with the internal functions of the New York Times, wants to remain anonymous (to you) and has a review in last week’s piece about the internal functions of the New York Times. In particular, my claim that the acquisition by the Times and the subsequent sale of the Boston Globe was not good:

When you say that the Globe’s purchase was a “disaster”, you lose me. Now, I had nothing to do with buying or selling the Globe in ’93. I’m almost sure it was bought about 12 times [Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, a key Wall Street measurement that’s supposed to highlight a company’s true profitability] and was profitable for at least 15 and maybe 18 years of ownership. So how come something that’s about $ 1.6 billion in profit from a $ 1.1 billion purchase is a disaster? Did it return more than the company’s capital cost (that is, the only real measure of successful mergers and acquisitions)? I do not know, maybe not. But he had to be close. This also resulted in the Globe being a much stronger journalistic entity for much longer than it had remained independent (see almost every other newspaper in the 5-20 markets). The bigger picture, however, is an agreement that was appropriate for the strategy at the time and that strategy changed, not an agreement that has nothing to do with the current agreement.

Famous! If you want to weigh this week’s column or anything, please @ me on Twitter or send me an email: kafkaonmedia@recode.net.

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