Shaun Lucas
Opinion Editor

As the pandemic reaches its anniversary, the success of the numerous COVID-19 vaccines may have society returning to normal relatively soon. The “normal” of post-pandemic will still be much different than life before 2020. The film industry in 2021 may become a combination of how films were handled both before and after the pandemic.

After the financial bust of 2020, AMC theaters plans to reopen 99% of American locations by the end of March, according to AMC’s press release. Other theater chains are also prepping reopenings, such as Regal Cinemas planning to open their American locations by April, according to NPR.

In the same few weeks, the Oscars announced their lineup of nominees for the best films of 2020. Many of the Oscar nominees were movies exclusive to streaming platforms, such as Netflix’s “MANK.”

These announcements seemingly present a potential for theaters and streaming services to continue sharing new releases beyond 2021.

2020 showed movie theaters simply could not survive in a socially-distanced world. Government regulations limiting building capacity, sanitization, and the direct shutdown of “non-essential” businesses led many movie theaters to bankruptcy. Back in October, Regal Cinemas shut down all 536 of their theaters, according to NPR

I personally even remember the shutdown of my local Regal location, weeks after drastic renovations.While it may be reopening soon, I initially believed the theater which I spent my entire life experiencing new movies was forever out of commission. It is always sad to see a small town lose one of its most popular attractions, despite that attraction being a small movie theater connected to a strip mall.

With barely any new films reaching theaters, the academy needed to search deeper for content to honor. Thus, seven out of the eight 2020 films nominated for best picture are exclusive to streaming services.

While streaming services published exclusive content pre-COVID-19, the 2021 Oscar nominees show a trend in academy respect for exclusive films. Even as recently as 2019, Netflix’s “Marriage Story” won numerous Oscars, along with being nominated for the prestigious “Best Picture” award.

Of course, movies can be appreciated for more than the production aspects, which earns filmmakers academy awards. Referring back to my beloved Regal location, going to a theater with your friends is a great experience, no matter how well a film is made. I don’t remember much about 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast,” other than it was the first movie I went to see with my girlfriend of four years.

In fact, the timing of AMC’s reopenings reinforces the “theater experience” sentiment. March 31 marks the theatrical release of “Godzilla v. King Kong.” Will the viewers in those theaters be analysing the artistic value of that film? Likely no, but they will be entertained by two massive creators fighting.  

Admittedly, the high prices of both tickets and theater food made me doubt theaters’ longevity pre-pandemic. Even one streaming service provided plenty of content for the price of one movie ticket. Like others, I miss the unique experience of reacting to a movie with an audience of enthusiastic strangers. 

As much as services appreciated the new releases, film studios were likely yearning for the return of theaters to sell tickets. Big budget films released for no additional price on streaming services are not gaining substantial revenue from user’s subscription fees.

A potential middle ground would be for blockbuster films to remain primarily in theaters while experimental films primarily release on streaming services. In this, the money-making films for more casual audiences give studios revenue, eventually funding less-marketable films for aspiring filmmakers.

No matter where they end up, I look forward to what 2021 films continue to offer. 2020 showed that great films can be created in a socially-distanced world. If anything, the balance of theater and streaming releases allow for even more opportunities within the film industry, as the need for new films will be at an all-time high. With high demand and high flow of content, 2021 may mark a new standard for the industry’s releasing of new content.