Guilty as charged
The best news of the summer arrived on Monday. This weekend’s box office numbers were 30 percent higher than the comparable weekend in 2019, the last time we had a normal schedule at the movies. Though the year as a whole is down 30 percent from 2019, that’s because the movie industry was still staggering back to life in the first half of the year, without a full release slate. But this summer has featured a diverse array of crowd-pleasing blockbusters that have zapped electricity back into the coma-ridden movie theater industry.
Though the calendar lacks the kinds of middlebrow dramas and comedies that once populated theater schedules, the grouping of movies is diverse enough: A hugely popular sequel to a 1980s action movie, two Marvel flicks, an installment in a popular animated kids’ series, a bizarre, artistic musical biopic, and a tacky dinosaur melodrama. RRR, a wild Telegu musical action film, has also racked up the dollars and the views. Even Jenny Slate’s ‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On’ is finding a theatrical audience. The industry has offered something for the olds, something for the noobs, something for the macho, something for the twee, and a variety of fare that, in a world wracked by culture war, mostly cuts down the middle.
So hooray for us. And hooray for the movies. It doesn’t look like the run is going to continue. Other than a Jordan Peele thriller, which will have a dedicated audience but doesn’t look like it’s going to be a huge smash, Hollywood doesn’t have anything major scheduled until October. But then after that there are two DC movies, a Marvel movie, an Avatar movie, and a bunch of other stuff. The industry has rebooted its calendar.
But let’s not forget why we’re talking about box office numbers as if they matter. It’s because, for two years, politicians and the media filled people with endless fear about gathering in public. In particular, they singled out movie theaters as devilish pits of disease superspreading. At best, they scolded anyone who dared suggest otherwise. At worst, they called us heartless murderers.
In fact, it was always safe to go to the movies. And I’ll always be grateful to the Texas theaters that stayed open during the cruelest months of the pandemic, allowing those of us brave enough to “risk death” some semblance of escape and normalcy in the face of public pressure and state imposition of values that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. I will admit that I panicked at points. It really seemed that the movies would never come back in full. Man, I’m glad they did.
The Covid pandemic may not be entirely over, but it’s over as a political force in the vast majority of the United States, and in the world. People are either vaccinated, or they’ve had Covid, and some have had it multiple times and are also vaccinated. We’re still here, and we still like going to the movies. Let’s not allow the powers that be to take that simple pleasure away from us again.