"No New 'Movies' till Influenza ends" blared a New York Times headline on Oct. 10, 1918, while the deadly second wave of the Spanish Flu was unfolding.
A century later, during another pandemic, movies - quotes no longer necessary - are again facing a critical juncture. But it's not because new films haven't been coming out. By streaming service, video-on-demand, virtual theater or actual theater, a steady diet of films have been released under Covid-19 every week. The Times has reviewed more than 460 new movies since mid-March.
Yet until recently - with only a few exceptions - those haven't been the big-budget spectacles Hollywood runs on. Eight months into the pandemic, that's changing. Last month, the Walt Disney Co. experimented with the $200 million 'Mulan' as a premium buy on its fast-growing streaming service, Disney+ - where the Pixar film 'Soul' will also go on Dec. 25. WarnerMedia last week announced that 'Wonder Woman 1984' - a movie that might have made $1 billion at the box office in a normal summer - will land in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously next month.
Much remains uncertain about how the movie business will survive the pandemic. But it's increasingly clear that Hollywood won't be the same afterward. Just as the Spanish Flu, which weeded out smaller companies and contributed to the formation of the studio system, COVID-19 is remaking Hollywood, accelerating a digital makeover and potentially reordering an industry that was already in flux.
"I don't think the genie will ever be back in the bottle," says veteran producer Peter Guber, president of Mandalay Entertainment and former chief of Sony Pictures. "It will be a new studio system. Instead of MGM and Fox, they're going to be Disney and Disney+, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, HBO Max and Peacock."