HBO Max and the State of Cinema

Streaming services are keeping the film industry alive during crisis

I haven’t been to a movie theater since Jan. 4, 2020. My dad and I went to go watch “Uncut Gems.” It was tense. It was darkly funny. The end was absolutely bonkers. And it was just an overall insane experience.
After COVID-19 struck the world, many aspects of our lives have had to change, and that includes the film industry. During that first week of lockdown, movie studios had started allowing people to rent their films from home for a $20 fee, which was pretty reasonable for watching theatrical movies at home. After that, movies were either just delayed to 2021 or were distributed to streaming services; last year was a big one for Netflix in particular. Theaters being shut down wasn’t stopping filmmakers from releasing their work. Sure, Christopher Nolan was absolutely hell-bent on releasing “TENET” in theaters (in the midst of a pandemic), as was Disney with “The New Mutants,” and those films weren’t all that successful. So of course, the streaming or at-home rental options were much more possible.
And then HBO and Warner Bros. announced that their main theatrical slate would be released both in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day as their normal release; they would remain on the service for a month before reverting only to theaters and then eventually being back on the service. This started with last year’s “Wonder Woman 1984” as well as this year’s “Judas and the Black Messiah.” It will continue with “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” “In The Heights,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “Suicide Squad,” “The Many Saints of Newark,” “Dune” and the untitled fourth film in “The Matrix” series.
However, this was a decision that didn’t sit well with a few people. Christopher Nolan has gone as far as to say that HBO Max is the worst streaming service, and it is now heavily implied that Nolan will not work with the studio for future projects, ending an 18-year collaboration. AMC Theaters is also blaming this HBO deal, as the theater chain is close to being bankrupt while movies go to streaming. And finally, “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve wrote a long essay regarding his disappointment with the company for slating his film for a digital release. In the essay, he says that he and his team have worked for over three years to make this large-scale sci-fi epic (which is currently slated to be the first part of a duology) and that the decision was only made to grab public attention after the streaming service’s lackluster launch.
This has caused a debate with people either saying this is saving cinema or ending it. And personally, I believe that it’s more likely to be the former.
As I said earlier, I absolutely agree that the theater is the best place to watch and experience films. Some of my absolute favorite viewing experiences were in the theater. I will never forget being able to watch “The Lighthouse” in theaters with my best friend. The movie itself was already fantastic, but the big screen and insane sound system made the experience even better.
But the problem is that, unfortunately, a lot has changed since then. We are still in the midst of a pandemic, and having large groups of people in theaters is a socially irresponsible thing to do. And the fact that Christopher Nolan and Disney were so hell-bent on doing this is pretty sad. With Nolan, I at least understand that he wanted people to experience his film in the best way possible; if he was more open to the idea of just delaying the movie as much as possible to avoid a digital release, then this would have been completely fine. However, Disney is (and has always been) only in it for the money. Plus, “The New Mutants” was supposed to drop in 2018, so like … it’s clear that they just wanted to get rid of that movie.
Delaying films is really just not the best idea at this point, though. Money is needed to make them, especially these big, tentpole films. As much as I hate to admit it, the financial aspect of the film industry is the most important part of this specific industry at this time. Movies are only really financed because they make a lot of money, and the equivalent currently is streaming. People may be more willing to cave and get an HBO Max account to be able to watch these movies. In fact, apparently the amount of subscriptions to the service spiked when “Wonder Woman 1984” was released.
In conclusion, streaming is very necessary for the film industry. Granted, I really love the theatrical experience, and I’m unfortunately not too sure if theaters will still be profitable after this period. However, at least we’ll still be able to actually have films.