If the Oscars needed a wider mission beyond simply promoting the year’s best movies, the closure of the Arclight and Pacific cinema chain has arguably provided them with one: Get the message out to film lovers to save theaters.
The announcement over a week ago that Pacific Theatres saw no economically viable way to reopen its outlets in California—including the legendary Cinerama Dome in Hollywood—was a dagger to the heart of the entertainment industry, with the Cinerama Dome in particular a historic landmark in Los Angeles, as well as a place of pure nostalgia for moviegoers.
“I’m so sad,” tweeted actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, summing up the response to the news across social media. “I remember going to the Cinerama Dome to see ‘Star Trek IV’ with my dad when I was little. So many memories since then.”
The Oscars have always served as what amounts to a primetime commercial for the movie world as a whole, celebrating film as both an art form and as an immensely profitable industry. But while a year of coronavirus-related shutdowns has upped the success of streaming platforms, it has laid a dark shadow over the future of theaters and whether people will be lured back to them post-pandemic, especially if public-health concerns about mass gatherings and crowded indoor spaces continue.
The conversation on social media immediately turned to efforts to “save” the Cinerama Dome, and it’s entirely likely that someone with the necessary resources will, whether that’s a consortium or an entity like Netflix—which bought Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre last year—but thousands lesser known theaters may simply be too small to survive.
Nevertheless, the broader question of what happens to the movie industry going forward remains a mystery. For every piece of good news—such as the pandemic-best box-office results in the US for “Godzilla vs. Kong,” a film whose gigantic title characters cry out for a big screen showing—there has also been a delayed release or some other step backward.
Whichever flick wins best picture, it will likely have found its widest audience among people watching on a couch, not in a theater seat. As such, as we head towards a summer blockbuster season with considerably higher hopes than those of 2020, it’s the Oscars’ job to remind people not just of what offerings are available, but also what we’ve been missing out on since theaters were forced to shut down.