Tom Jolliffe looks at the hopeful signs of recovery for the theatrical industry thanks to F9 and Black Widow…
Don’t call it a comeback! Okay…maybe quietly whisper it, but cinema might just be back. An industry that has struggled to adapt to restrictions and reinvention, to full on lockdowns (and closing), to rescheduling of big movies, might finally be heading toward normality. I did wonder whether Fast 9 would be the perfect film to do just that, to fire jump leads into an engine in danger of petering out entirely. It might have been greeted with mixed reviews, but for the punters, it seems like fast cars, crazy stunts and a total lapse in any kind of logic was the NOS injection of escapism they needed.
Currently the Vin Diesel lead franchise’s latest instalment is pushing the half billion mark. Granted this probably leaves it still some way short of turning a profit, though days are relatively early (and some sense of realism must also come into play). One must also factor in restrictions on seat numbers in some territories still, as well as some more cautious publicans still taking baby steps back to crowded attractions. If a certain recent sporting event featuring European’s best football (soccer) sides proved anything, it was that caution may just be pissed in the wind now, with massive crowds gathering for the recent final (let’s not delve into some of the sadder elements of this, except to say that certain unsavoury fans don’t deserve nice things, like a restriction lift and tournament glory). Still, the well behaved, accepting and respectful among us have earned ourselves a triumphant return to cinemas.
Much has been expected of Black Widow too. Once again, reviews have been decidedly mixed (among fans too). Maybe it’s not going to punch weight with the might of Avengers: Endgame, which went to a level of enormity that can’t be done every time. There’s something of a distinct hangover about the film perhaps, the foggy afterthought and graceful goodbye to a character who has been an ensemble player and bowed to death in the last big Avengers. Still, the key thing here is getting derrieres on to felt, slightly soda stained, seats (with popcorn kernels stuck in the crevices). Would audiences come in droves? We still have to deal with that contentious question… Is there a tent-pole level audience for female lead action films? Is Black Widow capable of dispelling an idea that is still ingrained in a lot of studios thinking? As per normal of course, Marvel are somewhat leading the way in the attempts to dispel this myth (among others).
As it happens, Black Widow has thrown a pretty impressive first weekend punch. A film boasting trailers that seemed to be a collection of Scar-Jo dropping perfectly into a ‘superhero landing’ and flicking a steel gaze upward, cobbled together an impressive take of 158 million bucks in its first weekend. On top of that it raked in a substantial kicker on its simultaneous Disney+ On Demand release. This is particularly key. There’s been a constant worry among filmmakers that a growing wonder about new release models, that could include simultaneous home and theatre releases, could negatively effect the latter and leave the multiplex heading on a downward spiral. Black Widow making hefty numbers at home and in theatres at least showed that for a tent-pole at least, the dual audience is there. It then gives people less enamoured with the movie theatre experience, the option to join in with the immediacy of the first release (and the price you pay is certainly steep for the pleasure). This might mean a more realistic shift in expectations for what a cinema release will gain you back, and put some emphasis on home demand to ease the pressure. Perhaps this will be much the same way as worldwide gross has usurped domestic as the major figure of interest for studios.
There are an array of potentially high grossing films to further tempt audiences back again. Suddenly, after so many being pushed back, we potentially have many being stacking up for a beefy slate. Part of the reason audiences were indifferent to coming back, lay in the fact that the ‘big’ movies weren’t there. The increase in Indie choices has been pleasing, serving a niche who want something a bit grown up, or simply more variation. The reality is, it’s the 12-30 crowds who will have a particular sway on cinema becoming a big hitting industry again. I may watch something like Black Widow and proclaim, ‘I’m too old for this shit…’ But coming toward 40, my age group and beyond can’t save the big screen. We can but hope that we can easily attend the next Safdie or Eggers film, and perhaps, just maybe, do a little escaping into populism and films aimed at the teen-YA market. Marvel will fire out Spider-Man: No Way Home, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals, whilst the comic book market also gets Venom: Let There Be Carnage and The Suicide Squad. Some will do better than others. Some will still be regrettable but understandable loss leaders in a transitional year or two. Still, as we start to see $80 million domestic weekends, and worldwide grosses edging up toward that billion bar again, it would seem that there might just be life in cinema yet.
Which films are you looking forward to seeing on the big screen? Have you seen Black Widow or Fast 9 yet? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/