The future of the movies: With no blockbusters, local theaters feel the pressure

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LIBERTY, Mo. — When is the last time you saw a movie in a theater? For many people, it’s been months.

The holidays are usually a huge time for studios to release their biggest blockbusters, but not this year. The coronavirus has changed countless facets of our lives, and for the first time in history, the movies are no exception.

“In normal times of trouble — World War II, the Great Depression, the great recession — movie theaters actually thrived during that time as a way for people to escape,” Bobbie Bagby Ford said.

But there’s no escaping COVID-19 at the silver screen.

Ford knows. Her family started in the movie business in 1924. Almost 100 years later, Liberty-based B&B Theaters is simply surviving instead of thriving.

“For the year, we have lost a revenue of 93%,” said Ford, executive vice president of B&B Theaters.

The biggest challenge for B&B and the industry is a lack of new titles from the studios.

But there are signs of hope as Hollywood studios get back to work and more people start to go back to theaters, just not in the numbers they used to. It’s caused many theaters across the nation to close their doors, at least temporarily.

“The future of the movies is going to look much like it’s looked through the pandemic — a lot of streaming,” FOX4 film critic Shawn Edwards said.

He does think movie theaters will survive, but on a smaller scale. That could benefit smaller, independent theaters.

“I think I’m a little bit lucky in the type of programming we have,” said Brian Mossman, co-owner of Fine Arts Theaters. “We play a lot of art films. We play some commercial films for the older clientele, but I don’t need the Marvel films, the ‘Star Wars,’ where the big boys do.”

Mossman said, like many businesses, theaters are just trying to keep their doors open.

“The one thing that the pandemic has done is it’s forced us to watch a lot more independently produced movies, so at least we’re getting used to that,” Edwards said. “Now whether or not we will spend money to see independent movies is still to be determined.

But part of going to the movies is about the experience, the cushy seats, the buttery popcorn, the massive screen. And there’s something really communal about seeing a film in the theater.

Edwards said blockbuster movies will bring people back to the theaters eventually.

“I think those are going to become big event movies that people go out and see once or twice a year,” he said, comparing them to concerts.

Theaters like B&B are patiently waiting.

“Many movies have been pushed to next year, which is a good thing because it shows a vote of confidence in the theatrical experience,” Ford said. “Only 20% of those have gone to streaming, which means 80% are still in the schedule.”

Films like “Wonder Woman 1984,” “No Time to Die” and “Jurassic World: Dominion,” just to name a few, are on the slate.

“Even just one movie moving back into this calendar could be a game-changer,” Ford said.

Regardless, new content is new content because, now more than ever, many of us are looking for entertainment and an escape — even if it’s just for an hour or two.

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