I work at a newspaper company for my day job, so this past week has been a noticeably big one for me. We’ve also hit this weird point in the year where not a lot is coming out, save for weekly episodes of “The Mandalorian,” which I am committed to covering. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump will have resounding impacts not only on the United States, but the world, and I can only imagine the entertainment industry — particularly the film industry — will be no different.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Movie theaters might never fully recover. Already antiquated by the convenience and price point of streaming services like Netflix, it didn’t make much sense pre-pandemic to go to the theater unless you wanted to see a must-watch event movie like “Avengers: Endgame,” or a film that takes full advantage of the theater experience, like what James Cameron’s “Avatar” did a decade ago. And let’s be clear: Until Video-On-Demand or streaming is able to rake in blockbuster profits, theaters will exist after the pandemic, even if the number of theaters are greatly reduced and the ones who survive are dominated by large, profitable event movies. But I fear that mid- to small-budget films will never return, at least not to where they were pre-pandemic, as streaming services allow them to find their niches without competing for screen space, or wasting time marketing limited screenings.
What’s the main difference between Biden and Trump in the eyes of the film industry? First of all, come January when President-elect Biden is sworn into office, the gross incompetency of the Trump administration will be gone, so the country will have a fighting chance of getting the coronavirus pandemic under control. This will be no easy task, and it’s important to realize that the president’s powers are not limitless, and Biden will undoubtedly have to make some tough but necessary decisions early on to make sure the country contains the virus properly. I can definitely see him brushing up against state governments, especially those who opened up prematurely, who continue to see a record number of cases. I wouldn’t be surprised if some states go into lockdown to get cases under control.
But if they do eventually get the virus under control early in Biden’s tenure, it would allow theaters to open up much stronger than they are now. It could be possible to release a huge event film like “Wonder Woman 1984”, but first the country needs to get the virus under control and then build trust in the safety of movie theaters over time, as without that trust, theaters will remain desolate, and without theaters, it’s not feasible to release blockbusters.
Under Biden, we’re probably going to see another stimulus bill, and it could help keep theaters afloat for a time longer, while allowing the industry as a whole to increase production of shows and films, which has fallen. But it’s also worth noting that, while the Biden administration will undoubtedly help the film industry, it’s by no means his highest priority, mostly because there’s so much to put right from the previous administration.
I could write a whole column on how the Biden administration might affect film copyright and weaken fair use, which would hurt film criticism as a whole, but with the sheer volume of things on his plate, I’m not sure if that discussion is relevant. Given how severe the pandemic is and the depth of the damage the Trump administration has done to this country, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes Biden the entirety of his first term just to get us back to where the country was in 2016.
But two things are certain: Theaters are on life support, and they’ve lost their stranglehold on the industry, and streaming is here to stay.