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The Future of Movies

Since the pandemic hit, it’s been a bumpy ride for movie theaters—especially scrappy, independent theaters like The Myrna Loy. I’ve been the film programmer at The Myrna for the past five years and I can tell you—the pandemic hit us hard. Before COVID entered our world, the months of November – January were our busiest of the year. The time when most of the Oscar-hopeful films were released and people flocked to see the award contenders. But not this year… The Oscars have been pushed back to April 25th. Many of the prestige studio films have already been released on Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Apple or Disney Plus. And folks are still (with good reason) hesitant about gathering in public to watch a film. As I write this, there are a total of seven people watching Promising Young Woman in our 250-seat auditorium. And that’s a relatively good night.

If you’re a fan of going to the movies, you’ve probably wondered what the future holds for theaters once the pandemic loosens its grip. Well, the simple answer is that no one knows for sure. I’ve read articles proclaiming the death of movie theaters and articles heralding a coming surge in popularity. The increase in production slates among streaming services certainly doesn’t help (Netflix alone plans to produce 70 original films in 2021 for their members). Add to that, recent changes in federal law will soon allow studios to once again own theater chains. It’s entirely possible that in the next few years Disney, Netflix and Amazon will all have their own theaters across the country to exclusively show their films. It’s hard to say exactly how all these variables will affect independent theaters, but here are three reasons I’m optimistic about our future:

  1. People still love watching movies on the big screen. There’s just no substitute for the experience of sharing a great film with strangers in a darkened theater. It’s magic. Think back to your top five movie-going experiences. I bet you can name the film, the theater, the people you saw it with, your age, and how it made you feel. Now try to do the same with your top five Netflix films.
  2. There will be more filmmakers working in Hollywood than ever before, hence, more movies. The popularity of streaming has been a boon to filmmakers. These services need content so they’ve given more artists a platform to learn, take chances and hone their craft. We are on the precipice of the most diverse, creative and exciting collection of movies ever. And these filmmakers will want their films showcased on the big screen. Sure the blockbusters and superhero films will always suck up most of the oxygen in the room, but as new filmmakers emerge, the number of smaller, personal films will only grow.
  3. Independent theaters, like The Myrna, are simply better equipped to adjust to the changing market. We’re smaller and more agile. Whether it’s film festivals, Brew and Views, private rentals, or Throwback Thursdays—we’re always thinking of fun and unique ways to create an impactful filmgoing experience. Plus, we’re willing to show films that are streaming on Netflix and Amazon if we feel the big screen experience is important (Mank as a recent example). But the heart of our film program will always be finding those hidden gems that keep our audience coming back.

The Myrna Loy has always thrived during tough times. We’ve continually expanded our audience despite the arrival of the Helena Cinemark, the rise of streaming services, and Hollywood’s increasing reluctance to market small budget films. I have no reason to believe things will change once the pandemic ends. In the meantime, come check out a movie at The Myrna—there’s plenty of room.

Benji Cosgrove, Film Programmer

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