“The sea change wrought by COVID-19 has been a slow train coming,” says Hanks. “I think there’ll be an awful lot of movies that’ll only be streamed.”
While Tom Hanks is bullish about the future of cinema in the United States, he’s also being realistic that things might never go back to the way they were in a post-Covid world.
Cinephiles have been decrying for years that big-budget, special effects-driven, tentpole films like the Marvel Cinematic Universe have come to dominate the theater experience. Hanks only sees that accelerating until these are primarily the only types of films fans will bother to see on the big screen.
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“A sea change was due, anyway. It was coming,” Hanks told Collider. A big part of this is the quality of the home viewing experience, with ever-larger screens and surround sound systems, as well as the convenience of streaming.
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But perhaps the biggest factor is that the unexpected stay-at-home reality of the ongoing pandemic has already accelerated and further normalized the release of major film projects directly to consumers in their homes.
“Without a doubt, we are actually into the big curve of change, that has been due,” Hanks said, referencing the advent of VHS and home viewing of movies. “This has been just across the horizon.”
He went on to applaud the explosion of cinematic-level quality on the small screen, specifically citing HBO’s “Chernobyl” mini-series as “one of the greatest motion pictures I’ve ever seen.”
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“The sea change wrought by COVID-19 has been a slow train coming,” he said. “I think there’ll be an awful lot of movies that’ll only be streamed, and it’ll be fine to see them that way, because they’re actually built and made and constructed for somebody’s pretty good widescreen TV at their home.”
He also thinks that those big spectacle films like superhero franchises, “Star Wars,” “Tenet” and more are going to be essential keys in getting the theaters back up and running.
“In order to guarantee that people show up again, we’re going to have the Marvel Universe and all sorts of franchises,” said Hanks, speculating that the power of these franchises and the big-screen promise should be enough to lure fans back to the cineplexes.
Certainly, “Wonder Woman 84” might have had a better fan reaction had it been seen as intended on the big screen; instead most fans opted to screen it from the safety of their homes over the holidays on HBO Max, with many finding it wanting and lacking.
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There’s an intimacy in the home viewing experience that lends itself well to more sophisticated drama and character work, or even broad slapstick comedy, while films driven by spectacle might perform better as a larger-than-life experience.
“You want to see them writ large because actually watching it at home on your couch actually might diminish them somewhere, somehow, in their visual punch,” said Hanks.
The actor went so far as to speculate that his own “News of the World” film, which was released simultaneously to theaters and Netflix on Christmas day (opposite “WW84”) might well be “the last adult movie about people saying interesting things that’s going to play on a big screen somewhere.”
“In some ways, the exhibitors, once they’re up and open, will have a freer choice of what movies they do want to play,” he said. “And I’m no Cassandra when it comes down to this, but I’m going to say that big-event motion pictures are going to rule the day.”
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With Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” having already underperformed in domestic theaters and revenue down dangerously for theaters in 2020, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of the industry.
Adding to those concerns for many was Warner Bros. controversial decision to follow “WW84’s” day-and-date theatrical/HBO Max release by releasing its entire 2021 film slate — including major releases like “Dune” and the fourth “Matrix” project — to theaters and its streaming platform simultaneously.
In other words, even as vaccines for COVID-19 are rolling out and people are anticipating and hoping some return to normalcy for 2021, there is a long road ahead for the film industry, with many shifting and moving parts.
Netflix may have kickstarted this notion of releasing major, original motion pictures directly to its streaming audiences, but with every major entertainment entity seemingly having its own streaming platform now, and a pandemic keeping people at home, it’s suddenly become the norm … for now.
Tentpole films have been dominating the box office for years now, with many directors already saying they’ve struggled to get theatrical support from studios for more character-driven films. The push toward streaming for these films has already been underway.
Hanks is suggesting Covid may complete the shift, creating a clear divide between what would be considered a theatrical film (explosions, special effects, spandex) and a streaming film (talking heads). For now, uncertainty remains the norm.
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