Movie theaters are in trouble, and even more so than we already thought. The Paramount Consent Decrees have been dismantled. For those unfamiliar, let me explain. With the birth of film in the United States came the birth of the studio system, where studios, under contract, had specific actors, directors, writers, and so on. That also included block booking their films, which ultimately led the studios to control the movie theaters, whether by actually owning them or by contract with their films. This caused a problem, as it created an oligopoly. The theaters were controlled by a small amount of very large corporations. With the Paramount Consent Decree, the theater control was no longer allowed. Movie studios could not block book or have exclusive contracts with theaters, thus allowing the growth of a lot of not only smaller theaters, but also the growth of the indie film industry, as they had more options for showing their films.
Flash forward to now, where the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division ruled to dismantle this decree. So, what does this mean? It means that smaller, independent film studios and smaller, independent movie theaters are in trouble. This essentially puts full control back in the hands of the large movie studios, which is not good. It has never been good. I’m honestly baffled by this decision because there are so many other important things going on right now. This was not a priority in any way, and all it does is hurt the little studios and theaters. The only reason it seems to be a priority for the larger studios is because the smaller studios were putting out good films and gaining a good reputation with audiences, thus causing studios like Universal to begin to feel threatened.
Movie theaters are already going to be in trouble after this year, what with Universal Studios saying they’d release new films both in theaters and on VOD at the same time, and then AMC Theaters threatening to not show any Universal films, with other theater chains following suit. This only adds to the struggle.
What makes this more frustrating is that both the studios and the theaters need each other. So, this passive aggressive fighting back and forth is only damaging in the end. I fear for the small town movie theaters in rural America, and I fear for the new filmmaker who has poured their heart and soul into a picture who can’t get a major studio to distribute it.