Hollywood 2021: Big Screen Is Back!

At an in-theater event in Los Angeles, a coalition of Hollywood studios and exhibitors promoted moviegoing as the pandemic eases and the summer box office approaches.

Actor and former governor Schwarzenegger was one of the surprise guests at a gathering designed to spread the word that it’s time to leave home, take a break from streaming and return to movie theaters now that the COVID-19 crisis has eased.

“We are back! We are back. Let’s chant that,” Schwarzenegger said when taking the stage inside an auditorium at AMC Century City.

The presentation was part of the “Big Screen Is Back” initiative, which kicked off at the end of the Oscars preshow with PSA starring Matthew McConaughey and featuring some of the 150,000-plus workers impacted by yearlong cinema closures.

Filmmakers and studio executives taking part in Wednesday’s event at AMC Century City had a collective message: seeing a movie on the big screen can’t be replicated. Because of the pandemic and its lingering impact, some studios are sending their movies to streamers. But no one touted the benefits of streaming at Wednesday’s presentation; instead the focus was on resurrecting theatrical as a first choice for consumers.

“Marvel movies are made to be seen on the big screen. It’s by far the best way to see a Marvel movie and in my opinion, any film,” said Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige in a taped message introducing a Marvel sizzle reel, including a clip of Black Widow.

J.J. Abrams showed up in person. “It is truly great to be back in a movie theater,” Abrams said. “Personally, some of my absolute best life experiences happened in rooms like this. I think it will come back in a roaring way so I’ll see you at the movies.”

“The Big Screen Is Back” campaign is being supported by a broad coalition of Hollywood executives, the National Association of Theatre Owners, the Motion Picture Association, cinema circuits and studios. It is being spearheaded by veteran marketing executives including Terry Curtin, CAA’s Megan Crawford and Megan Colligan of Imax, as well as veteran distribution exec Kyle Davies.

During the session in Century City, Hollywood studio executives and filmmakers shared footage of their summer films. (Warner Bros. showed eight minutes of Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit stage musical In the Heights.)

Disney is hedging its bets and debuting Black Widow on July 9 and on Disney+ Premier Access (ditto for Cruella over Memorial Day).

Warner Bros. is releasing its entire 2021 slate day and date in cinemas and on HBO Max, including In the Heights. The studio has said it will return to more normal windowing in 2022.

Paramount Pictures domestic distribution president Chris Aronson said that A Quiet Place Part II, which opens opposite Cruella, can “only be seen in theaters” and won’t be getting a day and date release.

Quiet Place director John Krasinski was among numerous directors and talent who taped special messages extolling the big screen (Edgar Wright, Jennifer Hudson and Ryan Reynolds, among them).

All of the major studios showcased their summer films, from Universal’s F9 to a number of specialty films from companies including Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Classics, A24, Fox Searchlight, IFC Films, Neon and Focus Features.

“We are here today as a community,” said United Artists Releasing distribution chief Erik Lomis. MGM and partner UAR shared footage from the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, starring Hudson.

Presently, nearly 65 percent of theaters in North America are reopened (a huge improvement over several months ago).

A new poll from the National Research Group shows that 70 percent of moviegoers now feel comfortable returning to the cinema, also a huge gain (many, however, want mask requirements in place).

Producer Jason Blum closed out the lengthy presentation that teased dozens of summer titles. “I would stay for any of the movies previewed here today,” he said. “There is buzz in the creative community is about movie theaters opening. That’s where most artists want to see their work.”

He also addressed shifting business models and “crazy corporate consolidation” especially of the past week. “It puts us at this intersection of recovery and change,” Blum said. “My head is spinning and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to make of it.”

Disney’s Cruella became the first major studio movie to hold an in-theater premiere on Wednesday night, while Paramount hosted a number of media screenings for Quiet Place Part II. Both event films open over Memorial Day, and hope to reignite the box office, which was left devastated by the pandemic.