Christmas Day is not only one of the most important religious holidays in the world, but a huge box office event for the movie industry. Roger Wolfson, whose TV and screenwriting credits include Saving Grace, The Closer, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Century City, gives the nod to the top three all-time highest-grossing movies on Christmas day demonstrating how the movie-going experience is woven into the American holiday tradition. They are: Meet the Fockers (2004 $19M), Avatar (2009 $23M), and Sherlock Holmes (2009, $24.6M). Honorable mention belongs to The Exorcist, which opened on December 26th, 1973, earning a reputation as one of the scariest movies in filmmaking history.
Then came COVID-19, and an entirely new nightmare began rivaling the likes of John Carpenter’s Halloween about a manic killer that just wouldn’t die. As the pandemic invaded our lives, the film industry found itself in a particularly odd predicament and extremely vulnerable to the virus’s effects and impact on American culture. Within the film industry, production was delayed, studio offices closed, actors and crew grew wary of returning to set, and movie theaters closed up due to stay-at-home and social distancing orders. Wolfson says that globally, the outlook is worse as the American film industry has surged internationally. From conception to filming to screening, the movie industry is a global market that has historically depended on large numbers of people being put together in relatively tight spaces.
That said, among the people suffering the most are the owners of movie theaters. The movie studios will feel some pain, but the attention (and money) will shift from movie theatres where social distancing and “larger gatherings” are the norm to outlets that benefit from people watching films in the safety of their homes (or, making a comeback…the Drive-in experience). Wolfson says that the public’s desire to see movies will not diminish. It will expand.
The challenge of the movie industry will be to create safe productions, meaning smaller groups of actors, smaller crews, more outdoor shooting, and more controlled atmospheres. We’ll see bubble productions, akin to the bubble where the NBA is currently performing or a Tyler Perry style “camp quarantine” production experience. As long as demand remains constant, if not growing – the show must and will go on.
Wolfson hypothesizes that the popular holiday season movie experience will be the first real tentpole time frame where content may not match demand, and gross ticket sales will experience a dramatic drop to previous years. Movies take a long time to shoot, edit, package, market, and bring to theaters. Even though the movie industry is sitting on content shot pre-pandemic, time is running out to complete principle filming and get into post-production. Wolfson concludes that the first post-pandemic holiday season will probably focus on one or two major films that have already been completed but pushed back due to COVID-19. The lack of new movies is destined to leave audiences hungrier for more, and the movie theater experience is still a highly sought after, time-honored tradition, especially during the holidays.