Disney: Fueling an Unexpected Comeback


Disney’s 2021 movie debuts have the potential to save the movie theater industry. (Courtesy of Twitter)

After Disney announced that the rest of its 2021 movie releases would debut exclusively in theaters, it seems that cinemas might stand a fighting chance. Toward the height of the pandemic, it seemed as though the movie theater industry was on its last legs, particularly with  movie giant AMC declaring bankruptcy. Several smaller theaters did not make it through the trying times of the pandemic and had to close their doors permanently.

Disney’s bold decision leaves consumers with no choice but to play an active role in the comeback of movie theaters. The hit that box offices took during the peak of the pandemic was substantial, so this new marketing strategy may be the key to the industry’s renewed success.

Though this idea may seem risky, there is evidence to support the likelihood of its success in returning movie theaters to their once former glory. Just this year, 20th Century Studios saw massive success with its two new releases “Free Guy” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Both films were released in theaters only and they grossed millions of dollars. “Shang Chi” performed so well that it was deemed the second-highest grossing theater debut since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, “Free Guy” has made over $200 million around the globe and has been established as the fifth highest worldwide movie haul in 2021.

Even if one were to disregard these promising numbers, this strategy has great potential because of the world we are currently living in. Unfortunately, the delta variant still stands in the way of the industry’s full-on revival. It is an ever-present looming threat, keeping even avid movie-theater lovers hesitant to leave their homes. However, I do not believe that this fear will trump people’s desire for social interaction. Though the delta variant remains in full force, restrictions on the American people are miles ahead of where they were only a year ago. As vaccinated people try to establish some sense of a new normal, they will turn to time-tried traditions in an attempt to recreate the simple pleasures of their past lives. Going to the movie theater is a perfect way to fulfill this need.

While the main pretext for watching a movie in the theater is to see it earlier, the underlying reason so many people enjoy going to the movie theaters is for the experience. When people pay for the ticket, they are buying into much more than just viewing the film. They are buying into the traditional experience of buttery popcorn, 3D glasses and a dark theater illuminated by a giant screen. More importantly, they are buying into the experience of comradery that comes from sitting next to complete strangers just as eager to view a new movie. 

It is this interconnectedness that has been greatly missed since the tragic world events of 2020 began. People are starved for entertainment, but more than that, they are starved for companionship. If Disney makes it so individuals have no excuse but to attend the theaters to watch movies, most people will set aside their fears and engage in the social interactions that they have previously been deprived of.

When faced with the decision of seeing a new movie release or having to miss the debut, people will undoubtedly choose to see the movie, regardless of the medium through which it is presented to them. This push from Disney is just what Americans need to get back into the theater.

Carolyn Branigan, FCRH ’24, is an English major from Tinton Falls, N.J.