Don’t roll the credits on the movie theatre experience

In the streaming versus theatre debate, the film industry is big enough for both

Theaters still have their pros.
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I saw Avengers: Endgame, the highest-grossing film of 2019, in a packed theatre. I'm a casual fan of the Marvel franchise, but I still remember the moment the audience burst into wild cheers when—spoiler alert—Captain America summoned Thor's hammer. It was hard not to be swept up in the excitement of the crowd that showed up that night, which was the whole reason I wanted to be there.
 
Watching that iconic scene for the first time wouldn't have been quite as impactful if I’d streamed it on Disney+ a few months after opening night. 
 
For the past few months, however, going to the movie theatre hasn't been an option. 
 
Until recently, the current COVID-19 pandemic and public health guidelines made it impossible to enjoy films as part of an audience. However, with most of Ontario now in Stage 3 of the province's plan for reopening businesses, the ability to watch that upcoming film you’ve been looking forward to in a socially distanced, heavily sanitized fashion is coming soon to a theatre near you. 
 
The temporary shuttering of theatres combined with the proliferation of streaming services during quarantine has brought a question to the forefront of moviegoers' minds: is the curtain about to fall on the era of watching films in theatres?
 
Trolls: World Tour is a crucial player in this conversation. In April, Universal Pictures opted to make the movie available for streaming instead of waiting for a theatrical release. According to the production company, the experimental move was a success.
 
To some, this success spells doom for movie theatres. 
 
Concern about the viability of cinemas isn't new. Last June, The New York Times asked major Hollywood figures about the future of the industry. They shared valid concerns; the theatre experience can be inaccessible compared to the in-home alternative of a monthly subscription service. For students looking to save on both time and money, streaming can also be more appealing.
 
For filmmakers, it's harder for smaller movies to snag highly coveted screenings in theatres. The variety of films available to stream, on the other hand, bring more stories to more people. Low-budget films, independent movies, and world cinema are just as easy to find online as Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar-winners. 
 
This increased flexibility encourages more boundary-pushing in filmmaking, from innovative forms of storytelling to underrepresented storylines. Viewers are generally more willing to watch something unfamiliar at home than risk trekking to the theatre for something they may not end up enjoying.
 
What streaming can't do is replace the experience of watching a film in a theatre. You can make your own popcorn, but you can't replicate the unique sense of anticipation as the lights dim just before the movie starts. 
 
Sure, blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame have been criticized for edging out smaller, indie films from theatres and audiences' minds. Criticism of theatrical releases often centres on directors prioritizing flashiness and marketability over a meaningful plot.
 
But my favourite theatrical experiences aren't just flashy—they're poignant. Watching in a theatre with a big screen, immersive sound, and—most importantly—an engaged audience, serves to amplify the emotional experience of watching movies and makes them memorable. 
 
I remember the audience breaking into impromptu applause multiple times during a screening at Roy Thomson Hall during the Toronto International Film Festival. I remember the crowd holding their breath during a tense scene in the second Baahubali film, and the wild cheering that followed its payoff. And I still remember the spectacular visual effects of Interstellar rendered beautifully on the silver screen. 
 
In the theatre versus streaming debate, each medium has its own pros and cons—which is why the two can co-exist. The interplay between them will push the industry to tell better stories. 
 
Movies are made impactful by the universal language of human emotion. If the emotions don't work, the story doesn't stick—but if they do, it doesn’t matter who the film is about or where it takes place, much less whether you press play after a long day or book a ticket months ahead of opening night. 
 
Being unable to go to the theatre these past few months hasn't convinced me of its obsolescence. It's only reminded me of the value of emotion and storytelling. And, of course, it's reminded me that stories are meant to be shared. 
 

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