Cinemas were struggling even before the pandemic. Scott Simon talks to reporter Matt Belloni about whether a blockbuster like the Top Gun sequel means theaters are coming back.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It’s been quite a summer of movies – Minions, Thor, dinosaurs and cruise control.
(SOUNDBITE FROM MOVIE, “TOP GUN: MAVERICK”)
TOM CRUISE: (As Pete “Maverick” Mitchell) Good morning, aviators. Your captain is speaking. Today’s exercise is dogfighting.
SIMON: Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” has already surpassed $1.2 billion at the global box office, leading us to wonder if this success is a sign that movie theaters are back in business? Matt Belloni covers the film business and is the founder of Puck. Thank you very much for being with us.
MATT BELLONI: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: What does the success of “Top Gun: Maverick” mean? Is this an aberration or a sign of things to come?
BELLONI: People say, oh, movies are coming back. And for a certain type of movie, yes, movies are coming back. We have the big hits – the Marvel movies are still doing well. Children’s movies showed with “Minions” and with – earlier, before the summer – “Sonic The Hedgehog” that you can bring back the family audience. Although the Disney movie “Lightyear” did not work in theaters. But the dramas, the average action movies that aren’t on the A-list franchises – they really struggled. And the studios are still somewhat scared. They just don’t release many of these movies in theaters. It’s partly due to the pandemic and some of the delays that have come along with it. But that’s partly because it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. They see no evidence that there is an audience for mid-budget and lower-budget dramas in theaters, so they simply don’t release them. But there cannot be a surprise hit if they are not in theaters.
SIMON: Yes. Are movie theaters trying to come up with some new formula of – I don’t know – bigger and better snacks, drinks?
BELLONI: They are. I mean, most theater chains now serve alcohol. And they didn’t do that. They will offer upgraded seats. And you can buy premium format tickets. This enhances the theater experience. They could also do things to appeal to a younger audience, maybe have a screening with all text messages. And I know this has been experimented with in certain theaters. You laugh. But if there was, you know, a text-and-post screening of a film, and you knew it was going in, there would probably be an audience for it.
SIMON: How do all these questions about where the industry is now and who’s making money affect the kind of movies that get made?
BELLONI: It definitely affects the movies that get made, because if you can’t see a path to $100 million for a prestige drama, you’re less likely to take a risk on that movie. And there are other options. You know, you can sell a movie to Netflix. We saw this last year when the biggest hit out of Sundance was a movie called “CODA” that was bought by Apple for $25 million – it didn’t get a theatrical release, but Apple successfully got that movie, did an Oscar campaign and won Best photo. But this is the rare example. For the most part, these movies are bought from streaming services. They are placed on the platform. People can see them there. But they don’t have those giant, big, $100 million, $200 million breakouts — the La La Lands of the world.
SIMON: Are there one or two particular movies that you watch about what they could tell us about the movie business.
BELLONI: I think in the fall they’re really counting on two things. First up is the Black Panther sequel, which we haven’t seen footage of yet. The sequel will be without Chadwick Boseman, who apparently died tragically. We don’t know how it will even be included. But there could be a surge of emotion to propel this film into the thin air of, you know, 1.5 billion, even more, potentially. Besides Black Panther, the other movie that theater owners are really keeping a close eye on is Avatar 2. I mean it’s the sequel to the highest grossing movie of all time. James Cameron has been working on this for a decade. And even if Avatar 2 does half the business of the first, that’s still a billion and a half business, which would be incredible for these theater owners.
The problem is that most of the projections I’ve seen for 2022 show the theatrical business at about 70% of normal. Normal numbers for 2019. Not great if you’re in the theater business. So while the studios may be taking hits, the aggregate for the movie business means we’re not back. And the projections for next year are better, but not 100% of where we were.
SIMON: Matt Belloni is the founder of Puck. He reports on Hollywood. Thank you very much for being with us.
BELLONI: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on an urgent deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be final and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The fiduciary record of NPR programming is the audio recording.