The Future of Movies
By Marshall Law
From the timeless classics like The Wizard of Oz, coming of age films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, wildly imaginative sci-fis like Star Wars, and beautifully shot works of art like La La Land, it really is a spectacle to see how these filmmakers can bring their worlds to life. Movies are such a unique form of art for the modern time that no other time period can compare to. It is hard to believe that a 100-year-old method for story telling could be so developed and widespread. What sets a movie apart from other forms of expression like drawing, sculpting, and music is that it utilizes more than just one of the senses in order to immerse the viewer into the narrative being told. Camera angles, grounded acting, special effects, and big budget production all contribute to create an extraordinary viewing experience and to make the billion-dollar industry thrive. However, movie viewing has evolved over many years, and the movies that people are watching today are much different than the ones their parents or grandparents were watching. It should then be no surprise movies that the next generations will be viewing are going to change as well. From its humble beginnings of silent pictures and crowded theaters and auditoriums to the rise of streaming services like Netflix, the future of movies will include less people going to movie theaters, virtual reality movies, and more advanced visual effects.
Back to the Beginning
Watching movies is a modern luxury, and in turn the history of films and how they developed does not date back very far. The start of movies began with the kinetoscope, a device that became a commercial success in France during the 1890s. This device allowed people to view pictures in motion that would tell a story. It was groundbreaking at the time and soon enough people began to invest their money in not only watching films but also making them. By the 1930s, cinema had reached its peak and would be in what people call now the ‘Golden Age’. These movies, when compared to today, had longer shots, less motion, and were lit very differently (Miller). Even though many today would not be as attracted to these movies as people had before, customers were crowding theaters to experience something so new and revolutionary. The Science and Media Museum observed that “during the 1930s and 1940s, cinema was the principal form of popular entertainment, with people often attending cinemas twice a week. Ornate ’super’ cinemas or ‘picture palaces’… could hold over 3,000 people in a single auditorium” (A Very Short History of Cinema). People all around the world were packing themselves into theaters on a weekly basis for something that people today may take for granted. Those who lived during the 1930s and 1940s, for example, had very little to do for leisure unlike today, so getting to watch what may be boring black and white footage of short, nonsensical stories to us was boundless entertainment for them. However, having theaters crowded with people did not last forever and cinema later began to shift.
Where We Are Now
Although the ‘Golden Age’ of cinema will go down in American history as a prosperous time for entertainment, today, streaming services take center stage over the theaters. Businesses like Blockbuster have gone out of business not so recently because of platforms that make watching movies easier by using the internet. There has not been a need to go out to buy or rent movies on CDs or VHS tapes for some time now and that can largely attributed to Netflix. Once a company that had the main purpose of letting people rent DVDs online and then shipping them to the customers, they had changed their business to instead have people pay a monthly subscription to watch any movies or television shows they wanted; of which Netflix had the rights to. People had caught on to this idea of monthly-based payment for unlimited streaming and began to ditch conventional methods of getting their entertainment. Blake Morgan, a Customer Experience Futurist and writer of “The Customer of the Future” addresses this by saying, “In 2018, the number of people who cut the cord increased by nearly 33%, to 33 million people. At the same time, Netflix users are increasing. Consumers prefer the flexibility of being able to watch what they want when they want to” (Morgan). As Morgan says, flexibility around entertainment is what many consumers want. People did not want to go to the movies, so they bought DVDs and then later they did not want to go out to get those DVDs, so they began watching using streaming services.
What the Future Holds
Not only because of easier access to streaming platforms, but also the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic will cause the number of those who go to the movies to decrease. The classic experience of going to a dark theater, filled with strangers and plenty of junk food, to watch a new release of a movie is becoming a thing of the past. Since it is so much easier to watch movies in the comfort of your home, some see no real reason to go out to do it instead. This trend was steadily on the rise but was sped up when the COVID-19 virus shut down nearly all movie theaters. A survey taken revealed that after the pandemic is over more people would rather watch movies at home than in theaters (Arkenberg). From that same article that the survey was taken from, the statistics show that the average number of movie tickets bought each year by individuals has decreased while at the same time companies are pivoting to release their own streaming services. Streaming services like HBO Max, Paramount Plus, and Disney Plus all were released to the public either during the pandemic or, in Disney’s case, shortly before. Although these platforms for watching movies are great for the consumers, getting to stay inside away from others, they are terrible for the industry. Without DVDs, film companies have become more reliant on box office sales. Releasing high budget movies on cheaper streaming services is not a viable business strategy and will financially damage those respected companies. It would be inaccurate say that no one will attend in-person movie theaters; however, people will be visiting these theaters less often and theaters may have to find new business models to stay afloat.
Even though it may be upsetting for some to hear that movie theaters are not as populous as they once were, there may be a new wave of in-person viewing experiences in the form of virtual and augmented reality. Many people will be familiar with virtual reality video games and videos, as they have gained massive popularity in recent years, but may not have thought about watching full length movies using the same technology. It is possible that in the future people could go to movie theatres to, instead of watching their movies on a flat screen or projection, wear a virtual reality headset and experience the movie in a full 360-degree field. Not only that, but also augmented reality that tailors uniquely to each viewer could be seen in the near future. In Luke Buckmaster’s article “What Will Films Be Like in 20 Years?”, he dives into this idea further with many comments from many experts in the entertainment business. Buckmaster writes, “According to VR guru and artist Chris Milk, films of the future will offer tailored immersive experiences. They will, he tells BBC Culture, be capable of ‘crafting a story in real-time, that is just for you, that uniquely satisfies you and what your likes and dislikes are’” (Buckmaster). It is exciting for many artists and film makers to get the chance to express themselves using a never-before-seen way to watch. It is similar to how people were when movies were being brought into existence. They have boundless opportunities to try and show their talent to others by making stories and scenarios that not only use virtual reality to make feel more realistic but also artificial intelligence that reacts to the audience’s actions.
Just as virtual reality and augmented reality movies are just now becoming mainstream because of incredible advancements in its technology, visual effects in movies are becoming exceedingly realistic. While filmmakers have been using visual effects for a long time now, each year that goes by the effects become more and more developed. This is obvious, but it is important to acknowledge because this creates less restriction on the artists creating movies. Many older movies were held back due to limitations of their time. Movies like King Kong, Jaws, and Star Wars which were once considered revolutionary, can now be looked into for their many flaws they had with the visual effects. James Cameron, director of two of the highest grossing movies of all time both of which feature visual effects heavily, had this to say about his upcoming sequels of the Avatar movie, “What Joe Letteri and Weta Digital bring to these stories is impossible to quantify. Since we made Avatar, Weta continued to prove themselves as doing the best CG animation, the most human, the most alive, the most photorealistic effects in the world. And of course, that now means I can push them to take it even further” (Plank). Realistic visual effects and computer-generated animation create jobs for artists, immerse the viewers into the world intended, and lets filmmakers run wild with their ideas. In the future, people will not have to worry about what they can and cannot do with the technology available to them, instead they will be limited by their own imagination.
It is no secret that movies have had a significant cultural impact, especially in the United States. With so much money in the economy being poured into making and then paying to watch them, people may wonder what the future holds for films. It is clear that people are not frequenting themselves in theaters nearly every week and DVDs and VHS tapes are fossilizing as we speak. But that does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. Change is inevitable and the only thing that filmmakers and viewers can do is accept and adapt to these changes. Maybe while all the regular consumers stay in their homes using their streaming platforms, the movie theaters can try experimenting with new business plans like virtual reality movies. Then again, if theaters do not bring in customers soon, they could be a thing of the past just like the kinetoscope. But whether you are a pessimist or an optimist, there is no denying that movies, themselves, will continue on. There is really no definite conclusion on what direction the film industry is heading but with the amount of streaming service originals and independent film companies there are, what can be concluded is that entertainment will prevail.
Arkenberg, Chris, et al. “Digital Media Trends.” Deloitte Insights, 10 Dec. 2020, www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/technology/future-of-the-movie-industry.html. Accessed 5 April 2021.
“A Very Short History of Cinema.” Science and Media Museum, 18 June 2020. https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/very-short-history-of-cinema. Accessed 10 April 2021.
Buckmaster, Luke. “What Will Films Be Like in 20 Years?” BBC, 8 May 2019. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20190508-what-will-films-be-like-in-20-years Accessed 5 April 2021.
Miller, Greg. “Data From a Century of Cinema Reveals How Movies Have Evolved.” Wired, 8 September 2014. https://www.wired.com/2014/09/cinema-is-evolving/ Accessed 5 April 2021.
Morgan, Blake. “What Is The Netflix Affect?” Forbes. 19 Feb. 2019 https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2019/02/19/what-is-the-netflix-effect/?sh=53998e285640 Accessed 30 March 2021.
Plank, Bryce. “The Future of Visual Effects (VFX).” YouTube, uploaded by TDC, 12 Aug. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_3gBfHFMQo. Accessed 7 April 2021.