Without movie theatres, what would Christmas be?

Without movie theatres, what would Christmas be?

Can you think people didn’t used to throng to multiplexes on Christmas Day, bringing tidings of comfort and joy, or at the very least an urge to avoid relatives’ small talk? The period before COVID-19 has been dubbed the Before Times, but the genuine Before Times stretch back decades, to a time when yuletide moviegoing wasn’t yet a tradition.

Without movie theatres, what would Christmas be?

Even Christmas movies couldn’t get the cash flowing on December 25. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” for example, bombed when it was released just before Christmas in 1946, failing to persuade postwar Americans to forego their sacred holidays. 20th Century Fox released another classic the next year. During the wonderfully joyous month of… May, “Miracle on 34th Street”? Darryl Zanuck, the studio’s president, believed that without Santa Claus, moviegoers would not show up, thus Fox’s marketing department chose not to feature him in its summer advertising. Since the period of the nickelodeon, American Jews have been coming to the movies (as well as Yiddish theatrical shows) on Christmas, but it wasn’t until the blockbuster blossomed in the mid-’70s that studios finally realised the tradition’s potential. And oh, how they harnessed it, particularly as the 1990s drew to a close. The week between December 24 and December 31 now attracts upwards of $400 million in ticket sales, accounting for up to 5% of an entire year’s box-office receipts. This year, however, will be different. This year, we’ll go back to the prehistoric era. Many of us will stay at home because our local movie theatres have closed due to rising coronavirus incidence. The theatres that are still open are anticipating less audiences.

For the first time in a long time, Hollywood will have a tranquil holiday season, at least in terms of physical moviegoing, a further setback for a business whose health is already in doubt. The majority of the films that will be released will be on streaming services. The rainy apocalyptic thriller “The Midnight Sky,” directed by and starring George Clooney, launched on Netflix on Wednesday. In the style of “Bright” and “Bird Box,” the firm is attempting to release another winter sensation. Friday, aka Christmas, brings the release of three films that could have been big moneymakers: Pixar’s “Soul” (exclusively on Disney+), the pricey superhero sequel “Wonder Woman 1984” (available on HBO Max and in select theatres), and the stately Tom Hanks drama “News of the World” (in select theatres and heading to video-on-demand platforms in January). Meanwhile, “Promising Young Woman” and “One Night in Miami,” both Oscar hopefuls, will have limited theatrical premieres before going digital next month.

Gone is the euphoria that surrounds a much-anticipated theatre debut, when individuals bring their well-fed families to sit among strangers and experience the euphoria of a new film projected onto a large screen. Some of the defining films of the last 30 years were helped to come to fruition by a Christmas or Christmas-related release. These films have the momentum of a summer blockbuster, but they benefit from the infamous dead zone, the time between Christmas and New Year’s when many Americans are off work, out of school, and given the luxury of simultaneous leisure. Going to the movies in late December has a mystical pull to it, as if it’s a reward for making it through the year and enduring annual family dynamics. Entertainment is a right, not a frivolous distraction. It’s something we’ve worked hard for. “The Godfather: Part III,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “Titanic,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” six “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” epics, “Dreamgirls,” “Night at the Museum,” “It’s Complicated,” and four “Star Wars” films have all reaped the financial benefits of the holiday season. Two profitable “Little Women” adaptations — one from 1994 and the other from 2019, both directed by Greta Gerwig and set in the snow — have come, which is fairly appropriate given the story’s icy trappings.

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