I don't think the studios are willing to give up the box office just yet. It's fallen off for smaller films for sure, but niche movies and franchises still do bigger and better business by having a theatrical run. It's funny how we still think as "direct to video" as a pejorative, and yet, that's how most people take in content now.
I don't think big theaters are going to completely fold, but I do think it's a scene that is going to change. My prediction is that chains like AMC will sell off their locations and there's going to be two types of buyers.
The first, as you theorize, is going to be studios. It's already a thing here in LA. Disney owns the El Capitan in Hollywood and has all their premiers there. I think that's going to definitely grow country wide. Disney branded theaters for Disney movies. I can see other studios doing it too, but Disney, which owns all the biggest franchises, will definitely be the ones who can make it work. Either way though, I think this would only account for maybe a third of movies houses around the country.
I think the second third are going to be picked up by smaller companies who will do niche programming. Again, in LA, we have the New Beverly, which Tarrantino co-owns and does all sorts of revival programming. There's The Egyptian which does a lot of classic movies. I think we're going to see some independent places like that pop up around the country, or smaller niche chains like The Drafthouse or Arclight that try to make seeing a movie more of an experience or event. Whether it's niche programming, or an experience (like fancy chairs with gourmet food), I think smaller groups will scoop up these theaters and make use of them.
The final third of theaters are just going to die and house Spirit Halloween stores in the fall and be derelicts otherwise.
We've sort of been on this track for awhile as TVs get bigger and more affordable and streaming content becomes more readily available and higher quality. I mean-- I am a MOVIE GUY. I work in the damn industry. I am proud one of my movies got a legit theatrical run-- but even still... man do I hate going to the movies. People are the worst. I really only go for things meant to be seen as big as possible. And even then, I go midday on a Tuesday to limit the amount of people smacking popcorn, talking, or looking at their phones.
As I said up top, as of a few months ago, the theatrical takes on movies like TROS or Endgame still justified the model... but now with a pandemic... it remains to be seen.
AMC and Regal were more or less about to boycott Universal for offering up new movies for streaming at the same time s them being in theaters. So what now? I haven't numbers on the round of premium priced films that were offered up recently, but those would be very telling for the future.
Because even if the bankrupted theaters are scooped by studios or smaller chains, will people even WANT to go? I saw a pic the other day of a social-distance designed theater with rows taken out between seats. That won't work. One, everyone will still bunch up at the exit after the movie, and two, if a theater can't fill itself up, they aren't making money.
Well-- the studios aren't. One big key factor is that studios tend to take most of the box office. The theater chains make most of their money off of a very small cut of ticket prices, but take 100% of concessions. If you can only put a few people in a theater you're not making that popcorn money.
So at the end of the day, if a studio really is only concerned with making money (which IS all they are concerned with) they will toss out some premium priced streaming movies and not bother with theaters. That's what we've come down to-- when neither the studios OR the theaters themselves can make money off people squeezing into a theater, neither will bother to try.