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Two Years And One Pandemic Later, Movies Are Back

The list and history of Memorial Day blockbuster film releases runs long and deep, from “Return of the Jedi” to “Jurassic Park” to “Pirates of the Caribbean” — all of which saw long lines and packed theaters as they were the only game in town.

Fast forward to 2021 and post-pandemic movie-goers not only got to choose what new film they wanted to see but, in at least one case, could pick whether or not they wanted to leave their home to do so.

The Disney film “Cruella,” derived from the unknown back story of the “101 Dalmatians” villain Cruella DeVille, was the latest entry in the budding “hybrid launch” category, which debuts new films on the big screen and little screen simultaneously.

As a result, many people won’t see Cruella in theaters this summer even though they can, opting instead to watch at-home streaming on Disney+ where it is being offered alongside its theatrical release, for an extra $30 to existing monthly subscribers. And many will presumably do so, not because they have to, but because after a year of seeing new releases at home, they’ve learned to prefer the experience.

It is too early to write the obituary for theatrical releases — as “Cruella” wasn’t the only big release for Memorial Day 2021. 

“A Quiet Place II” didn’t do a hybrid stream/theatrical release — opting for the movie theaters only option and reportedly grossed $19.3 million on Friday alone, showing in 3,752 theaters, and is projected to rake in $57 million for the four-day weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If those predictions pan out, they will represent the biggest domestic numbers in the pandemic era and also an improvement from the release of the original “Quiet Place” in April 2018.  

It’s not close to a full comeback — 2019’s Memorial Day Weekend champion “Aladdin” brought in $113 million over the four-day weekend, roughly double what a “Quiet Place II” is forecast to do. But “Aladdin” was on more screens and wasn’t hindered by theaters only operating at 50 percent capacity as there are in metro Los Angeles, the nation’s single-largest movie market.

What remains to be seen is how “Cruella’s” weekend numbers shake out — and if the hybrid approach ended up being an advantage, a detriment or a wash. 

Shifting Viewership

It is a shift consistent with what PYMNTS has observed over its Pandenomics series in general and its latest installment in specific —  Consumers and the New Retail Landscape. Even as more than half of consumers have been vaccinated, digital habits acquired in the pandemic are sticky and don’t seem to be dislodging because they make life easier for those adapted to them. 

What started as a safety precaution has evolved into a new set of preferences. The report demonstrates that fully vaccinated digital shifters may be less likely than non-shifters to carry out their plans to embrace public leisure activities again. 

Which is starting to beg the question: Can reality compete with the virtual world? According to the PYMNTS report: 

“It can, but merchants have to step up their transformation timetables.” 

A process undeniably underway in the movie industry — where the power players are rapidly aligning to a world where saying “let’s go to the movies” could be an invitation to curl up on the couch for an evening. 

Content Consolidation

The best recent example being the announcement of Amazon’s recent acquisition of MGM studios of $8.45 billion. The media purchase by the largest online retailer is the latest move to grow its non-core businesses. It marks the latest — and largest — deal in a string of recent content announcements aimed at raising the profile and prospects of both Prime Video and its Amazon Studios units. Amazon also said it would help in the archival and preservation of MGM’s heritage and catalog of 4,000-plus films and 17,000 TV shows while making them available to customers for viewing.

“Through this acquisition, Amazon [will] empower MGM to continue to do what they do best: great storytelling,” the company said.

And also empower Amazon to do what it does best, competing aggressively in a tight market with older and more established players. The acquisition gives Amazon what competitors in the streaming race like Disney+, HBOMax and Paramount had when they entered — a massive catalog filled with decades of beloved proprietary content with which it can populate its streaming services for viewers. 

However, what is clear is that human beings, in the era of vaccination, are going to go back to the movies. What remains to be seen is with what frequency — now that streaming is here to stay. 

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