Cinemas were struggling even before the pandemic. Scott Simon talks to reporter Matt Belloni about whether a blockbuster like the Top Gun sequel means it’s coming back to theaters.
SCOTT SIMON, HOSTING:
It was a good summer at the movies – “Minions”, “Thor”, dinosaurs and cruise control.
(SOUNDBREAK FROM THE MOVIE “TOP GAN: MAVERICK”)
TOM CRUISE: (as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell) Good morning, aviators. This is what your captain says. Today’s exercise is air combat.
SIMON: Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick has already crossed $1.2 billion at the global box office, which makes us wonder if this success is a sign that theaters are back in business? Matt Belloni is in the film business and a founding partner of Puck. Thank you very much for being with us.
MATT BELLONI: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: What does it mean, the success of “Top Gun: Maverick”? Is this a coincidence or a sign of the future?
BELLONI: People say, oh, cinema is back. And for a certain type of movie, yes, movies are back. We have big hits – Marvel movies are still doing well. Children’s movies have shown with Minions and — earlier, before the summer — Sonic the Hedgehog that you can win back family audiences. Although the Disney film “Lighter” was not shown in cinemas. But the dramas, the regular action movies that aren’t part of the first franchise list, they’ve really struggled. And the studios are still somewhat scared. They just don’t release many of these movies in theaters. Partly due to the pandemic and some of the delays associated with it. But partly because it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. They see no evidence that mid-budget and low-budget dramas are in theaters, so they simply don’t show them. But there can be no unexpected hit if there are no theaters.
SIMON: Yes. Cinemas are trying to come up with some new formula – I don’t know – bigger and better snacks, drinks?
BELLONI: They are. I mean, most chain theaters now serve alcohol. And they didn’t do that before. They will offer upgraded seats. You can also buy tickets to the premium format screen. It enhances the theater experience. They could also do something to appeal to a younger audience, maybe do a text only show. And I know that it was experimented in some theaters. you laugh But if there was, you know, a screening of the film with the text and the post, and you knew it was happening, there would probably be an audience for that.
SIMON: How do all these questions about where the industry is now and who’s making the money affect the type of films that will be made?
BELLONI: It really affects the movies that get made, because if you don’t see a path to $100 million for a prestige drama, you’re more likely to take a risk on that movie. And there are other options. You know, you can sell a Netflix movie. We saw this last year when the biggest hit at Sundance was a movie called CODA, which Apple bought for $25 million — it didn’t get a theatrical release, but Apple successfully acquired the movie, campaigned it for the Oscars, and it won best picture. But this is a rare example. For the most part, these movies are buying up streaming services. They are placed on the platform. People can see them there. But they don’t have those giant, big $100 million, $200 million breakouts — the La La Lands of the world.
SIMON: Are there one or two movies that you watch to learn what they can tell us about the movie business?
BELLONI: I think they’re really counting on two things in the fall. First of all, this is the continuation of “Black Panther”, the footage of which we have not seen. The sequel will be without Chadwick Boseman, who apparently died tragically. We don’t know how it will even be registered. But there could be a wave of emotion to propel this film into thin air, you know, potentially 1.5 billion, even more. In addition to “Black Panther”, cinema owners are carefully watching another film – “Avatar 2”. I mean, it’s a sequel to the highest grossing movie of all time. James Cameron worked on it for ten years. And even if Avatar 2 does half the business of the first, that’s still, you know, a billion and a half in business, which would be incredible for theater owners.
The problem is that most of the projections I’ve seen for 2022 show box office levels at about 70% of normal. Regular numbers for 2019. It’s not great if you’re in the theater business. So, while the studios may have hits, overall for the movie business, we’re not back. And the forecasts for next year are better, but not 100% of where we were.
SIMON: Matt Belloni is a founding partner of Puck. He talks about Hollywood. Thank you very much for being with us.
BELLONI: Thank you.
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