"No Time to Die," the 25th movie in the James Bond series, has moved its release date to April 2, 2021, in hopes that movie audiences will be willing and able to gather indoors by then and give the film a chance for box office success.
Originally scheduled for release last April, the Bond producers were the first entertainment industry leaders to recognize the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and they rescheduled "No Time to Die" for Nov. 25 way back in March. As the year has unfolded, they held firm to that Thanksgiving release and gave the theater business a glimmer of hope in this terrible year.
That hope is gone. Regal Cinemas announced Monday morning that it is closing all of its U.S. theaters at least for the foreseeable future. Employees are being laid off, and it's hard to see how the company can pay rent on thousands of screens around the country.
For more than a hundred years, movies have been a cheap, safe and reliable option for a night out with friends and family. Service members and their families have been some of the most reliable customers, leading to the long tradition of multiplexes built on the edge of military installations around the world.
That tradition is in serious danger. Whether it's the lack of exciting new movies to lure audiences to theaters or serious concerns about spending a couple of hours indoors with people who may not be wearing a mask, Americans haven't returned to movie houses since they started to reopen in late summer.
Everyone had high hopes for director Christopher Nolan's "Tenet," a complicated puzzle of a spy thriller that demanded a lot of summer movie audiences. Nolan was adamant that his film be released to theaters and he wanted it out this summer, so Warner Bros. went with it.
"Tenet" has been a box office disaster in the U.S. To be fair, it's performed respectably in other countries that have better managed their pandemic issues, but there's no way to see the movie as a success.
What happens next and why should you care? If the in-person moviegoing ritual dies off because of this worldwide health crisis, studios will no longer be able to afford to make the James Bond, Marvel, Star Wars and Mission: Impossible spectaculars. Unless we're all willing to pay $50 to stream them at home on opening weekend, the economics just don't work.
Film production provides employment for thousands of technical workers (many of them veterans). Movie theaters have provided first jobs for generations of irresponsible teenagers, teaching them how to show up for work on time and interact with people they don't already know.
Some of us like to complain about how liberal Hollywood stars might be, but the important truth is that movies have played a critical role in exporting United States ideology and values to the rest of the world over the last century.
What happens next year? Can movies rebound if all the theaters close down? No one has a clue.
Hold your breath, enjoy your Netflix and hope for the best.
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