Will Tom Cruise be able to save theaters from the dramatic crisis of viewers?

In 2020, still under the effects of confinement, ‘Tenet’ came to theaters to save the damaged and almost sunken film industry. In May 2022, without mandatory masks and with the Cannes festival roaring with the cinephile splendor of yesteryear, it is Tom Cruise with the first of his two great productions shot in these inclement times who is expected as the new savior of theaters of cinema, gripped by the pandemic aftermath and the unstoppable rise of streaming. It is not for nothing that Cruise is a kind of superhero and it is this genre that brings the most viewers to theaters by far.

Cruise is one of the few Hollywood actors who can continue to break the box office, and not just on the weekends. During the pandemic and post-pandemic he has produced two films, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and the seventh installment of ‘Mission: Impossible’, which has delayed its premiere for the third time. Now it is not expected until July 2023. Hopefully, then, its premiere is not seen as another messianic operation to save cinema.

Because the situation is alarming. People have stopped going to the rooms as they did before the coronavirus. It is true that the numbers had already fallen before the appearance of covid-19, but since then the fall has been sharp and, most worryingly, attendance at cinemas does not show signs of recovery in 2022, already normal. The worst unemployed is independent cinema. The one of the ‘majors’ is saved, although the collections are not so high.

cold numbers

The cold numbers don’t lie. In 2018, 585.7 million euros (97.7 million viewers) were collected in Spain; of that amount, Spanish cinema took 17.7%, 103.8 million. The following year was the best of the past decade (624.1 million euros and 105.1 million viewers), although the numbers fell in terms of Spanish cinema, which remained at 94 million euros, 15.1% of the total. 2020 didn’t start bad at all, but on March 14 the Government decreed a state of alarm. At the end of the year, with subsequent reopenings and closings of theaters, 171.1 million (28.2 million viewers) had been collected, with 42.7 million (25%) for Spanish cinema.

It was the confirmation of the catastrophe, with 72.6% less income compared to 2019. Of the 171 million, 102 were collected in January and February, before the confinement (in those first months the 2019 collection was exceeded by a 6%). The situation hardly improved in 2021: 251.2 million grosses, with 41 million viewers and 41.7 million (16.6%) for Spanish premieres. Now with the rooms open and some habits recovered, the drop in revenue between 2019 and 2021 was a chilling 60%.

The 127.5 million admitted from January 1 to May 15, 2022 predict that this year will be more or less like 2021. Spanish films have collected 14.3 million at the moment, and in that figure it plays an important role. the success of ‘Alcarràs’.

hopeful portfolio

To press the situation, we contacted several exhibitors and distributors. Octavio Alzaola, director of programming for Renoir cinemas, cites precisely the success of Carla Simón’s film as what, for independent cinema, would be an event film: “Right now there are these types of films both in commercial cinema, Marvel type, and in independent cinema”. She is optimistic about the imminent future: “The situation is bad now, but it will improve. There are hybrid commercial and independent films in the portfolio such as ‘Elvis’, and a great harvest of Spanish cinema.”

People now prefer to get away on weekends after everything we’ve been through, but in September things will return to normal

Octavio Alzaola (Renoir cinemas)

Alzaola believes that “the spectator’s bar to go to the cinema is higher given the circumstances. And there are other factors, such as the fact that people now prefer to escape on weekends after everything we’ve been through, but in September the panorama is will normalize.”

The methods have changed. ‘Doctor Strange in the multiverse of madness’ swept its first three days of release, but two weeks later the collection had fallen by 50%. This tonic is general. “A small film currently collects more or less half than in 2019. Then it could be 2,000 euros on average per copy. Now, if it makes 1,000, we are not complaining,” he says. Lara P. Camiñaone of the founders of BTEAM Pictures. Henry Costafounder of Elastica Films, integrated, like BTEAM, in ADICINE, the association of independent distributors, stresses that “50% or 60% less is billed than in 2019”.

A small film currently collects more or less half than in 2019

Lara P. Camiña (BTEAM Pictures)

Both are clear that expensive auteur productions will reach theaters with more difficulty -‘Crimes of the future’, David Cronenberg’s latest film, presented two days ago at Cannes, still has no distribution in Spain-, and that “it will be difficult to discover new directors because we cannot take economic risks”. According to Costa, “the films financed before the pandemic are still very expensive and the sales agents do not lower the prices because there was a large investment in them. In the coming years, projects like ‘Annette’ are going to be very difficult to raise” . They also refer to consumption habits: the youngest public, between 20 and 30 years old, has not stopped going to theaters as much as the most adult, surely more concerned about the health situation. The non-compulsory nature of the mask can help recovery.

In the next few years, ‘Annette’-type projects are going to be very difficult to get off the ground

Enrique Costa (Elastica Films)

Costa points out, regarding the competition of ‘streaming’, that “during confinement, most of the ‘majors’ streamlined the issue of platforms and skipped the norm of exhibition windows to accelerate profits. The new executives of the big studios once again defend the idea that the movie theaters are the ones that should generate the profits”. some hope.

Less demanding at home

Because “a part of the public has become totally accustomed to ‘streaming'”, recalls Camiña. José Tito, founding partner of La Aventura Cine -distributor of one of those independent film-events from before covid, ‘Parasites’-, points out a very interesting idea: “The level of demand for consuming cinema at home is lower than if You go to the movies. This makes it easier for the big studios: the product doesn’t necessarily have to be that good.” The new ways of consuming cinema have a decisive influence on how films are created.

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For Tito, “the present of cinemas is complicated if we don’t get people who consume independent cinema to return to cinemas. If it doesn’t happen quickly, cinema will cease to exist in the traditional way of four screenings a day for seven days a week. Perhaps the future is, in small towns, film club-type screenings, turning what used to be routine into something special.” “If the State does not intervene with more aid than is being given right now, the closure of many theaters will be inevitable.”

If the State does not intervene with more aid, the closure of many rooms will be inevitable

José Tito (The Adventure Cinema)

Tito points out that in large cities like Madrid and Barcelona it is not as dramatic, but he gives the example of Granada, where there are 30 screens for commercial cinema to only one for independent cinema. “The box office for the ‘majors’ has not dropped in the same proportion as for the independent ones, and their commitment is clear for ‘streaming’, which provides guaranteed income.” Without a pandemic or with a pandemic, the great machinery devours everything.

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