June 16, 2024

OPINION: Curtain call

Lost in Scene

Over the weekend I watched “Argylle,” one of 2024′s first major studio movies and vision into the future of the movie industry as a coproduction between Universal Pictures and Apple Original Films. As streaming services rise, so should attention be drawn to the few moments of theatrical release these movies receive.

Frankly, “Argylle” isn’t great. It’s an over-budgeted, convoluted and only occasionally exciting spy comedy. It leaks ideas from director Matthew Vaughn’s better movies, especially “Kingsman,” and never reaches the heights or freedom that those movies will offer. None of this matters in the business of movies as long as it can turn a profit, which seems impossible at this point.

“Argylle” was reported to have a worldwide theatrical gross of $96.1 million on an estimated $200 million budget. For a wide release, this is abysmal, but with the streaming market in mind, perhaps “Argylle” doesn’t need the traditional market. It’s hard to believe “Argylle,” with it’s piddling reviews and lack of a franchise, could find success but who knows?

The financials around streaming services is famously secretive, stemming from Netflix’s policies of rarely, if ever, reporting financial data of their own productions. In-house production budgets, licensing costs and subscriber numbers can give a rough estimate, but contributing success is up to the algorithms these services develop.

Is this where the movie business is headed? I love the theater, it’s the perfect place for movies, but if studios are unable to invite the masses, where does it go?

Studio reactions can be telling to how streaming services are performing. Any time a price increase occurs on a monthly subscription, odds are the service wasn’t making enough money. Disney+ launched for $6.99 a month, a low price to boost early subscribers before raising the cost to a profitable version.

Netflix’s high-profile indulgence with auteur directors in the late ‘10s with movies like “Roma,” “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” and “Mank” shifted after the pandemic, focusing on purchasing festival films, especially after the writer’s strike in 2023. The few original movies it still produces receive little theatrical attention, or sent straight to the service for the content algorithms to quickly forget about.

Amazon’s purchase of MGM, and Apple making an effort of longer theatrical runs, means that there is still interest in the theatrical window, especially as the main area of recouping production costs. Warner Bros. and Max’s pandemic experiment of simultaneous streaming and theatrical release failed as Warner Bros. still follows the theatrical window and even licenses its movies to other services outside of Max for additional revenue.

Streaming services themselves are more numerous than ever, almost to the point where finding out where to watch a certain movie can be a hassle. Humorously, the cornucopia of offerings have been packaged together, such as the Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ bundle or Amazon Prime’s channel subscriptions to echo the confusion that made cable packages infamous.

All of this is something I’m viewing from the movie perspective, and the TV perspective is a completely different ballpark. It’s become increasingly blurry as to where these streaming services are finding their cash cows. Netflix’s breakout hits were never the movies, but “Stranger Things” and “Squid Game.” With the influence of HBO’s stylings seeping in to the quality production expected of streaming service originals, the difference between a stylish TV show and a movie are becoming closer.

So where does the movie go? The blockbusters can stay in theaters and recoup their massive budget in some way, but after that, their destiny is to either be remembered as a quality film or cursed to the streaming backlog dungeons. The smaller-budget films are already having a tough time making it to theaters in the first place and are being sentenced to streaming services even quicker.

I don’t think the movie theater is dying, but the industry has been wobbly ever since the pandemic forced streaming services into the spotlight. Access to films of the past and present may seem easier than ever, but physical copies of movies are disappearing from retail stores. If a movie has no digital access, there’s a chance it can be lost to time. It’s good to have convenience, but it’s damaging the legacy and prestige these movies deserve.

If the streaming services are now the final resting place of Hollywood’s movies, then so be it. If better movies can be made from the profits of the services, all right. However, the theater must remain. Without it, movies lose their coveted status, pointed purpose and tight design. The theater deserves movies, we just need to deserve the theater.

Nick Pauly

News Reporter for Creston News Advertiser. Raised and matured in the state of Iowa, Nick Pauly developed a love for all forms of media, from books and movies to emerging forms of media such as video games and livestreaming.