No Time For Love, Dr. Jones!
Well this is bullshit. Apparently Spielberg and George Lucas have completely gone off the deep end and have traded in their director's chairs for a crystal ball.
I'm not saying things won't change in the next 20 years with how we watch movies, but to honestly come out like they did and say the theater is taking its last few breaths is complete nutballs. First of all, the notion that Lincoln wasn't going to get a proper release? That's bullshit - it's effing Spielberg (a man who's own name doesn't come up as misspelled in my word processor) and he had Daniel Day-Lewis! I don't buy it - what studio wouldn't want that Oscar prestige? Plus the movie did bananas at the box office ($272 million worldwide!) which completely deflates his argument. I mean, if a studio doesn't see that number and not understand that sometimes people want to see a good story regardless if it has explosions or not (although I would argue otherwise that Lincoln was not a good story. But I'm in the minority on that one). And as for Lucas's Red Tails, I'm sorry but that movie was going to be hard to invest regardless of timing. Just because these two oldies had some (possible) troubles and challenges getting their vision to the big screen doesn't mean the rest of a very creative industry is doomed to fail.
I think the biggest problem with their prediction is that its all predicated on some massive doomsday scenario where a studio has 3 or 4 big budget ($150+ million) movies that bomb, maybe bringing in half their budgets. This would completely bankrupt the studio to the point where they're forced to change their distribution model. This is nuts - there's nowhere near that many big budget movies by one studio in any given year. Sure, there will be bombs every year - John Carter and Battleship are the most notorious from last year, but for every bomb, you have at least 4 or 5 big hits that bring in a profit (Disney had John Carter, but they also had The Avengers, Brave, Wreck-It Ralph and Lincoln that brought in at least twice their budgets domestically and Universal had Battleship, but also Snow White and the Huntsman, Ted, The Lorax and Les Miserables).
And not only that but studios would be missing out on a lot of extra cash if these smaller movies just go straight to on demand or DVD. Movies like The Purge would never see $62 million dollars (the budget was only $3 million!) with this kind of scenario. I could rattle of at least a dozen or so movies like this every year that make 4 or 5 times their budget (2012: The Hunger Games, Ted, 21 Jump Street, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, The Vow, Magic Mike, Think Like a Man, Act of Valor, Pitch Perfect, Chronicle, Sinister just to name a few).
And this is all domestic grosses - the worldwide box office is growing and even if a movie bombs here, it can still make up its budget or even turn a profit overseas. Worldwide grosses for John Carter was $282 million. It's budget was $250 million - sure they probably lost money (usually a studio has to make double its budget at the box office in order to break even), but they didn't lose all of that $250 million (Disney did report they probably lost about $200 million on the film). That's not to say it wasn't a disaster, but like I said, Disney could fall back on the billion dollar gross of The Avengers worldwide that year to save face. Plus don't forget DVD/Blu-Ray sales! Those numbers are usually never revealed, but that's always extra money on top of the box office!
The last part of the equation is going to sound like pure pretentiousness from my part - but the theater going experience is a unique one. In that you can have your big budget affairs like World War Z and The Avengers, but people enjoy seeing lots of other awesome (in some cases, not so awesome) smaller movies - as shown by my evidence from last year up above. I can't imagine the studios nor the movie theater chains themselves considering a monumental paradigm shift such as Lucas and Spielberg suggest.
But what ultimately this boils down to is the old, crotchety grandpa complaining that the movies aren't-as-good-as-they-used-to-be argument. Which is nonsense - that's just nostalgia kicking in on their part - we tend to see the past with rose-colored glasses and remembering past movies we tend to forget the Juniors amongst the True Lies. Sure, there's tons of crap, but there always has been! And to say that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt is to do a complete disservice to all that creative talent that is doing some amazing work - Tarantino, David O. Russell, Rian Johnson, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Danny Boyle are just a few of the talented writers/directors that have all made some original movies in the past couple of years that are not just good, but great.
I don't doubt that how movies are made and distributed is going to change in the next 20 years, but the theater-going experience won't be drastically affected - people want something to do and getting out of the house for dinner and a movie is always going to be an option. It may be an expensive option, but it will never be something that the majority of us can't afford.
Thanks to Box Office Mojo for all the numbers.