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How the pandemic is changing American cinema

Residents watch a movie in a cinema in in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
Residents watch a movie in a cinema in in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

2021 was supposed to be Hollywood’s return to form. 

With vaccines in play and a better understanding air ventilation, theaters were supposed to open their doors again. And they did… sort of. 

Ticket sales in 2021 outpaced 2020. But were still nearly 70 percent behind the haul from 2019. 

A lot of that is the pandemic, but moviegoers have been gravitating away from theaters for years now. 

One survey from 2019 found half of all Americans went to the movies either once a year… or never

In a world where reboots and franchises dominate the box office (and even they aren’t doing pre-pandemic numbers), how can other films compete? And what does that mean for the future of American cinema? 

There’s a ton of great movies out there right now. If you want to spice up your movie night (at the theater or at home), here’s what our panelists recommend:

John Horn has a pile of 2021 gems: Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” (which is on Netflix); Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” (also on Netflix); Mike Mills’ “C’mon, C’mon” (Amazon Prime); Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” (theaters only)

Ryan Faughnder recommends a double feature: 2021’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (directed by Joel Coen), followed by 1957’s “Throne of Blood” (by the legendary Akira Kurosawa). The first is on Apple TV+ and the second is on HBO Max.

Alissa Wilkinson has three 2021 documentaries to share: “Procession” (Netflix), “Summer of Soul” (Hulu) and “Listening to Kenny G” (HBO Max).

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