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Shut up! Movie theaters are not dead even if Warner Bros. is grim reaper

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The movie-business-obituary writers are at it again! 

Warner Bros. revealed Thursday that its entire 2021 lineup will drop on its fledgling streaming service HBO Max and in traditional movie theaters simultaneously. And the internet reacted like FDR had just announced the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

“Warner Bros. to movie theaters: Drop dead,” declared ZDNet, invoking a tired old tabloid headline. “Warner Bros. has changed movie-going as we know it,” said GameSpot in its best impression of Dennis Quaid in “The Day After Tomorrow.” “Jeopardy!” contestant Ken Jennings went even further, tweeting, “RIP movie theaters 1905-2020.”

Relax, dweebs. Movie-going isn’t dead just because you can stream “Dune.”

I’ll grant you, it was a shock to see the list of titles — including “Wonder Woman 1984,” “The Matrix 4,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and “In the Heights” — that will be made available in Americans’ homes without a theatrical-release lag time. It’s more of a shock that “The Matrix 4” is being made at all; the last one sucked.

But one studio’s opportunistic ploy to make its new service into a viable Netflix competitor is not the death knell for the brick-and-mortar theater business. Neither are the industry’s formidable cash-flow struggles this past year. Audiences, you may recall, had plenty of at-home options before the pandemic and still chose to go to the movies instead. They will again.

Why? It’s just better. And not in the snobby “I prefer my music on vinyl” way. A 24-inch TV simply cannot compete with a 65-foot screen. That’s like choosing a tricycle over a roller coaster. Ticket buyers have made it clear in recent years that they will pay to attend big movies for the experience, and enjoy smaller titles from home.

Let’s look back at 2019. The Top 5 movies domestically were ginormous and made a ton of money: “Avengers: Endgame,” “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 4,” “Frozen II” and “Captain Marvel.” Major franchises, remakes and superhero stories, all produced by Disney.

Would you have liked your first watch of “Avengers: Endgame” to have been at home on the flat-screen in your bedroom while the kids scream in the other room? Will your first time with “Avatar 2” be on your laptop?

Disney’s business moves are far more impactful than those of Warner Bros. The studio is the head honcho at the box office, and while it dropped “Hamilton” on its Disney+ service for no extra charge, and will do the same with Pixar’s “Soul,” the House of Mouse has made no regular commitment to that model. Disney would surely rather go back to raking in $2 billion on a single movie. “Endgame,” released just last April, is the highest-grossing film ever.

And who’s to say something new won’t come along and top it? Nobody can confidently state that 2020 has made viewers prefer to watch blockbuster films at home, because almost none were released to prove their point. “No Time To Die,” “A Quiet Place: Part 2” and “Black Widow” all moved to 2021. The biggest-budget movie of the year, “Tenet,” is viewed as a bad omen — it grossed just $57.4 million from its stateside theatrical run — but it was also cerebral and had no big stars. Plus, it still made $300 million overseas.

"Dune" and "Wonder Woman 1984."
“Dune” and “Wonder Woman 1984.”
Warner Bros.

The bunk notion that the public would rather stay home than go out is consistently proven wrong, and the self-satisfied shut-ins of the press are shocked every single time it is. “Fifty million Americans travelled on Thanksgiving? But we have Zoom!” “People are going to bars? But there’s beer at home!” “Four hundred 20-somethings had a secret party? But we have novels!” Come on, guys.

Major chains such as AMC and Regal are undeniably struggling. For much of the year, we were legally prohibited from going to them. But audiences will eventually come back for a big-screen, collective experience, and to suggest otherwise is the usual media fire-and-brimstone shtick.

Humans have not been rewired to prefer being alone inside their house. If that were the case, the pandemic would be over. As long as there are big movies, there will be big screens to watch them on.

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