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2020 has been the worst year for cinema since the silent era. COVID-19 has transformed the way we live and being in an enclosed space with hundreds of strangers breathing, coughing and sneezing on one another suddenly doesn’t sound like much fun. It’s not like we had a choice in the matter, though, as every domestic theater chain shut their doors earlier this year and summer blockbusters were all postponed. At the time, there was a faint optimism that things could be back to normal by October, but that’s looking less and less likely by the day.
Now, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and public health spokesman for the White House, has cast doubt on safely catching a movie anytime soon. He took part in an Instagram Live event with Jennifer Garner recently, who asked him when it would be safe for audiences to return to theaters.
Fauci replied, “I think it’s going to be a combination of a vaccine that has been around for almost a year and good public-health measures,” and went on to say that even if a vaccine were to be finalized by this November or December, the earliest realistic time to expect theaters to be COVID-19-free is late 2021.
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That’s terrible news for the movie industry as a whole. We’ve already seen pushed back release dates hit with further delays, with Wonder Woman 1984 now not arriving until December 25th (and who knows whether that’ll actually happen?). On top of that, films that have been dropped into theaters like Tenet and The New Mutants have seen disappointing box office hauls even when taking into account social distancing requirements.
Right now, most major studios are adamant that tentpoles like Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984 and No Time to Die are getting a wide theatrical release no matter what. But if a second wave of COVID-19 hits this winter, then I suspect we may see some or all of those movies heading to VOD, after all, especially as Bill & Ted Face the Music is cleaning up on Amazon. Whatever the case, the world of film is going to look very different this time next year. Let’s hope the theatrical experience survives.