Over the past week, AMC Theatres announced its plans to re-open locations across the country along with a new set of safety guidelines. Those plans were rightfully met with criticism, given that we’re still in the middle of a fucking pandemic. Studios have repeatedly postponed release dates for numerous high-profile blockbusters, but as those delays continue with no immediate end in sight, there’s been some recent budging. Disney is releasing Mulan as a premium $30 rental exclusive to Disney+ subscribers, for instance, and if that goes well, it’s not difficult to imagine a few other big titles following suit. AMC also struck a deal with Universal Pictures, shortening the window between theatrical and VOD rental to 17 days—far less than the traditional 90-day window.
And according to the results of a recent survey of U.S. moviegoers, obtained by Variety, most people would actually be okay with watching a major “must-see” blockbuster film at home on their regular-ass TV screens. Respondents were specifically asked about their viewing preferences in a scenario in which “attending movie theaters again is generally considered safe once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.” If there were 90 days between theatrical release and VOD rental, 23% of those surveyed said they would definitely wait to watch a must-see film at home, while 21% said they would probably wait, and only 12% said they would definitely watch the film first in a theater. As the window between theatrical and VOD was hypothetically shortened, more respondents said they would definitely or probably wait to watch a film at home.
The percentages might be disheartening for those who still value the experience of seeing a film in theaters, which were already struggling prior to the pandemic. Although the numbers are low, there isn’t a significant decrease in the percentage of people who would definitely or probably see a film in a theater first, even as the release window shortens. And 15% of those polled said that even if they could watch a film immediately at home with no release window, they would still probably or definitely see it in a theater first.
For now, the more pressing results come from the portion of the survey regarding upcoming blockbuster releases. 54% of respondents said they would “prefer” to see Tenet in a theater first, but would ultimately be okay seeing it at home instead. 30% said they don’t care about seeing Tenet in theaters at all, and thus do not care if they make Christopher Nolan cry. Responses were very similar across the board, with close to or just over 50% of people saying they would prefer to watch films like Wonder Woman 1984 and Black Widow in theaters first, but would be okay with a premium VOD rental instead. While this may not bode well for the theater business in a post-pandemic landscape—whatever the hell that looks like—it does prove what we already know: the people crave new content. Give the people what they crave.
One final portion of the survey may offer a compromise of sorts: 42% of responders said they are very interested in attending a drive-in movie, while 31% said they are somewhat interested. So maybe there’s still hope. But not for Christopher Nolan, who is very sad about not being able to force you out of your homes during a pandemic to watch his new movie.