Remember going to the movies? It’s been about a month since movie theaters have closed as a result of the novel coronavirus. And while people are still watching new movies — Troll World Tour just dropped PVOD for 20 bucks! — there’s a lot of anxiety in the industry about what moviegoing will look like in a post-pandemic world.
One person who’s been very vocal about how it will change has been super-producer Jason Blum, whose company Blumhouse currently leads the market on inexpensive but profitable horror movies. Previously he’s speculated about how movie exhibition will change post-COVID-19, while acknowledging it’s still early to go into specifics. But one thing’s for sure: You won’t be seeing a glut of pandemic movies from his company.
Blum was on Friday’s The Bill Simmons Podcast to talk some more about how the industry is trying to deal with this unprecedented shift, and at one point his host asked a big question of the man whose company is responsible for Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Get Out, and the latest iteration of The Invisible Man: How many virus movies is he being pitched over Zoom these days?
“We’re not doing a virus movie,” Blum said bluntly. “We made two: We made The Bay, with Barry Levinson, and we made Viral. That’s two virus movies, and that’s enough.”
It’s a bold move, if perhaps not from an economic standpoint, to not capitalize on something that’s already destroyed untold lives. Both those films, too, are relatively old, and were not big hits: The Bay, a found footage frightfest from the director of Diner and Rain Man, came out in 2012, while Viral, from Catfish and Paranormal Activity sequel helmers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, received a limited release in 2016. And of course, there’s always the chance that, down the line, when things have lifted, he may change his mind.
Blum spent the majority of his time on Simmons’ podcast on industry talk. Blumhouse had two movies affected by the COVID-19 outbreak: The Invisible Man, which was released in late February and made a pretty penny before the outbreak stepped up, and The Hunt, which came out a week before quarantining became a thing and did not make bank. Both were subsequently made available on PVOD, and Blum says they did well. But he worries that the industry’s pandemic pause might amplify something that was already a problem in modern movies: Non-tentpole movies may be squeezed out of theaters and wind up only on PVOD.
“What moviegoing is going to be like post-COVID is going to be different that it was pre-COVID,” Blum told Simmons. That said, it’s too early to tell how different it will be or in what ways. “I think tentpole movies might still be in the theater for three or four months, but maybe The Hunt might be in the theater for two or three weeks. Or they’re just not in the theater at all.”
Simmons wondered if a new trend might emerge in which movies play theaters then go PVOD immediately after their run, maybe costing around $15. “I think that’s very possible,” Blum said, saying that could be a “compromise” between studios/exhibitors and audiences. He generally thinks that this seismic shift in the industry may result in studios and exhibitors learning how to better serve (or at least get more money from) viewers. “It may not be better for exhibition, it may not be better for producers, it may not be better for the studios. But the audience, which is the most important, will be better served after this crisis.”
Of course, there’s another major problem to contend with: Right now no one’s making movies (or scripted television). Yes, a number of major titles — from Black Widow to A Quiet Place II — have been rescheduled for later dates, while others are simply going to PVOD (or even to streamers like Disney+ or Amazon Prime). But there will still be a lack of content.
“The problem is the movies and the hole in production don’t line up,” Blum said. He says the movies put on hold will be “sprinkled” over the next 18 months, but there will also be all those movies that simply never happened. “For six months we won’t have made anything. The consumer’s not going to feel that for six months.”
But he reiterated something he said before: Going to the movies will definitely come back. “We have the memory of fleas,” Blum said. “Our habits will go back really fast. I may be totally naive about that, or maybe that’s wishful thinking. … But I think people are going to go back to going out to eat, going to Disneyland, going to the movies.”
You can listen to the entire podcast on The Ringer. Blum’s segment begins at the 47-minute mark.