Film studios and movie fans alike all had eyes on Wonder Woman 1984‘s unusual release dates. The film first premiered on Dec. 16 in a handful of international theatres before debuting simultaneously in select North American theatres and the streaming service HBO Max on Dec. 25.
The $200 million-budget superhero film brought in the biggest North American box-office haul in 2020 with $16.5 million. But Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t the first film to debut on a streaming platform.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, studios began premiering films on streaming services. The live-action Mulan premiered on Disney Plus in September for a $30 premium charge, on top of the platform’s subscription fee, before releasing to all subscribers in early December. Soul also premiered on Disney Plus the same day as Wonder Woman 1984 with no extra charge.
André Loiselle, St. Thomas University’s dean of humanities and a film professor, said the rise of streaming services could drastically change how film and media are consumed. He said theatres might become a place where people go for rare events.
“People go see a film in the theatres as an event, either big films with a lot of buzz or films where there is a sense that [an] entire community might go see it.”
Loiselle said this is especially the case with recent films like Black Panther.
“Black Panther was a film where there was a sense of a community being represented. For the African American community, the film really was a cultural event,” said Loiselle. “You can watch it at home, but the sense of community is lost.”
Drew Hudson, a second-year student at STU, said movie theatres are here to stay. Hudson said he prefers theatres to streaming services, but likes pirating specific movies he wants to watch. He said while streaming services aren’t going anywhere, they still come with problems.
Hudson said streaming services might have eliminated the amount of commercials during shows and films, but there are many services that put quantity over quality, which means that audiences are going to have to subscribe to multiple streaming services.
“They’re all about $10, that’s going to add up and that’s going to be even more expensive than cable already was,” said Hudson.
Stewart Donovan, an Irish studies professor who teaches several film courses at STU, said cinema is “constantly transforming” and is coming to an end.
Donovan said streaming services allow more diverse movies and independent films to share the limelight. He said filmmaking in Hollywood revolves around the commodification of the art form.
“It’s very hard to make a work of art if you’re looking for a happy ending all the time,” said Donovan. “You’re not going to find any film that’s really critical … most of Hollywood filmmaking is about making money.”
Although Loiselle believes that movie theatres may never fully recover, there is still some hope.
“Cinema is a place where people can come together and celebrate a cultural event.”