There are many out there that saw Covid-19 as the end of cinema. With people stuck indoors due to a global pandemic, cinemas and movie theatres had no choice but to shut their doors and wait for the virus to pass.
What was initially hoped to be a short-term issue, however, soon turned into two years of new variants, and rolling lockdowns around the world. Movie releases were cancelled or postponed; at the time of writing Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the popular 1986 Top Gun initially scheduled for 12th July 2019, is still to get its theatrical debut. And, as people moved away from the cinema, toward streaming services like Netflix, Amazon prime Video and Disney+, so did the studios, by releasing films via streaming services. Even as theatres began to reopen toward the end of 2020, studios continued to hedge their bets – in December 2020 Warner Bros. announced that it would be distributing every film slated for a 2021 release simultaneously on its HBO Max streaming service.
Attendance at cinemas and movie theatres has been falling for twenty years, with ticket prices steadily rising, and the video game industry first outstripped cinema in 1982. So, what’s the problem, and will the Metaverse support a resurgence in the film industry, or provide the final nail in the coffin?
Worldwide box offices receipts grew between the late nineties and the early noughties. From 2004, this growth has since plateaued at around $10 billion predominantly on the back of franchises such as Harry Potter, Star Wars and the cinematic behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In comparison, revenue from video games over the same period grew from $45 billion in 2004 to $180 billion in 2021. The two main reasons for this disparity? Immersion and longevity. Video games provide a much more immersive experience with the player being, quite literally, the main protagonist in every story – theatres have tried to create a more immersive cinema experience through 3D movies, moving platforms, and real effects including water, wind, and smoke. And video games they have greater longevity, with many titles running to over 40 hours of gameplay, with some clocking in at hundreds of hours.
Cinema has three options. It can either work alongside Metaverse partners, compete directly through the adoption of Metaverse technologies, or stick firmly to a model that’s existed since the late 19th century. The first option might see studios working alongside partners to create immersive, or even interactive, versions of their films. Imagine, being part of the movie, exploring Avatar’s moon of Pandora alongside, or even as, Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana’s characters, fight off Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, or witness disaster unfold from the deck of the Titanic. This would provide the immersion of video games, whilst increasing longevity, by allowing people to watch the film from different perspectives and navigate multiple character arcs.
Another option would be to enhance the in-cinema experience using virtual reality (VR) headsets. Perhaps allowing viewers to experience the movie through the eyes of the main protagonist or antagonist. While more linear than the open-world experience described above, this would provide a more immersive experience for cinema-goers. VR movies do risk going the same way as 3D movies, revenues for which declined rapidly post-Avatar in 2010. We may have to see what happens with the next four instalments of the Avatar franchise, currently due sometime between 2022 and 2027, and which are all reportedly being shot in 3D.