Opinion | Lights, Camera, Inaction: Major film studios need to do their part to combat COVID-19

Major film studios are complicit in the spread of COVID-19 by not releasing their films for streaming.



The Disney Plus logo for the streaming service.

Jenna Post, Arts Reporter

As far as cinematic releases go, the film industry has returned to business as usual despite COVID-19 cases rising nationwide. Major film studios have generally been opposed to releasing their new films to streaming services, so this comes as no surprise to cinephiles.

It’s also no secret that studios that have chosen to release their films exclusively to theaters are doing so to increase profits. Tickets are set at a per-person cost, which studios get a cut of, while streamed films are rented or purchased at a flat rate and can be viewed by multiple people.

Movies currently only available in theaters include The New Mutants, Unhinged, Tenet, and more.

The Big Six Studios — Sony, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Universal Studios, Disney, and Paramount — are all estimated to be worth billions. According to The Observer, box office sales are predicted to fall by 70 percent, which will amount to a loss of about $3.5 billion in ticket sales for the industry. However, each of the Big Six are worth well over that much money, so the losses are far from ruining them.

While I acknowledge that movie theaters themselves are in need of funding after taking a hit from COVID-19, the major studios are not financially struggling. The portion of ticket sales that goes to theaters isn’t a selfless choice out of the goodness of studios’ hearts.

It’s well within their budget to make their newest films available on streaming services upon release without threatening their ability to produce films. Any of these studios refusing to do so puts profit before safety and punishes movie lovers who put their health or the health of their loved ones first.

In addition to ostracizing movie lovers, the decision to only release films to theaters has also affected film critics. Currently, the most notorious example of this was film critics’ refusal to review The New Mutants, Disney’s most recent cinematic release.

Critics said only being offered public viewings, opposed to socially distanced private screenings or digital screenings, is a risk to their health that they aren’t willing to take.

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Ultimately, these for-profit decisions are bad for everyone, studios included. Viewers should not be asked to pick between their health or entertainment, especially when entertainment is needed now more than ever. Critics should not be asked to put their health on the line to do their jobs.

Additionally, I believe that bad press and losing the opportunity to gain a streaming audience during a pandemic is going to hurt studios more than help them. Their actions won’t go unnoticed by audiences.

These studios need to offer virtual viewing options upon release. If not for the safety of their audience, they should do it for their reputations.

It’s easy to push the blame onto those who chose to see movies in-person, because they are partially at fault, but these studios have the opportunity to make communities a safer place by releasing films for streaming. They should take it.