Carolyn Langford

Viewers seek alternatives to theaters such as drive-ins and streaming services

Pandemic movie watchers and producers have adapted how they keep up with the release of movies to maintain safety procedures and prevent the spread of the virus. 

Major movie theaters AMC and Cinemark shut down completely on March 16. Not knowing when they would be able to reopen, many film producers scrambled for ways to premiere their movies. Streaming subscription services like Netflix and Disney+ have continued to provide a way to watch recently released movies at home.

“I used to go to the movies with my friends all the time, but now, like everyone else, we are limited to watching movies at our house,” junior Virginia Nussbaumer said. “I’ve been re-watching a lot of my favorites.”

Nussbaumer was ecstatic to learn that the stage adaptation of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Tony award winning musical, “Hamilton,” would be released early, and that she could watch it easily and safely from home with her family. With Broadway closed until at least late May, the unexpected early release of  “Hamilton” on July 3 to Disney+ brought the musical from theatre to home. 

“I watched “Hamilton” the day it came out,” Nussbaumer said. “I thought it was a great way to boost people’s morale because people were already disheartened by COVID-19, and even in a normal year, tickets to ‘Hamilton’ are not easily attainable.”

For “Hamilton,” the opportunity to release the musical on Disney+ expanded viewership and allowed people to watch the musical for a fraction of what the Broadway ticket would have been. Economically, this way of releasing movies could really benefit networks when unexpected issues arise. Other movies released early for home viewing during the pandemic include “Mulan” on Disney+, “Trolls: World Tour on” Hulu, “Emma” on Amazon Prime Video and “The Invisible Man” on Hulu.  

“A lot of shows are going to be closed and not come back after COVID-19,” Nussbaumer said. “This is very sad because there are definitely some of my [favorites], which I wish more people could watch, in person, or on the TV. What’d be smart in my opinion is for Disney+ to make it their thing, like have a musical section, because they’d profit big time, which they already have from Hamilton.”

Like producers, movie watchers have had to adapt to circumstances, and some have gotten creative. What seems like an ancient trend has arisen among teenagers throughout the pandemic: drive-in movies. 

“Drive-in movies remind me of the olden days,” junior Grace Macchia said. “I like to decorate the car to be super cute and aesthetic. Since the movie theaters were closed during the summer, the drive-ins were the only ones open and you can stay in your cars and social distance from everyone.”

This safe alternative to traditional theaters during COVID-19 allows people to watch movies, old and new, from their car. Many teenagers have taken it as an opportunity to disconnect and bond with their friends. 

“I go with my boyfriend and I love that it’s outside and private and you can see all the stars,” Macchia said. “I would recommend going because it’s like a fun road trip if you go to a location farther away from Dallas. Unlike going to a regular movie theater, it’s super private and you don’t have to worry about disturbing other people by talking.”

After months of accommodating irregular movie releases, via streaming services or otherwise, movie theaters began to reopen in waves in August. Many had to make the decision as to whether or not it was safe to return. 

“It’s not that I even felt 100 percent comfortable going back to the theater,” senior Sam Curtis said. “For me, it was a necessary risk. Going with my father to see the latest Christopher Nolan film is a tradition that is too important to me to pass up. “Tenet” was the perfect experience to give me a much-needed mental health boost; the blaring speakers, unbelievable IMAX visuals and the excitement of its plot twists provided me with a mid-pandemic joy that nothing else could.”

Many reopened movie theaters have specific standards to ensure safety. Reopening was a step in the direction of returning to normal activities with new safety precautions.

“The film industry, theaters especially, has been hit hard by the pandemic, and so I admire Nolan’s commitment to releasing Tenet safely,” Curtis said. “I personally felt safe with the sanitation and social distancing in the theater, and can’t see theaters doing much more than they already are.”

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