No Way Home from the cinema

by Greg Tyrrell

Cast your mind back, if you would, to No Time to Die. Not as recent as when it hit cinemas last September, but all the way to the beginning of the previous year. The film was delayed from April 2020 to that November due to rising concerns of Covid-19. After a stagnant year of film releases, with some studios opting for a straight-to-streaming release, like the Mulan remake, and others taking their chances in theatres only, like Tenet, many viewed the Bond film as the defibrillator that cinema chains needed to keep the box office alive.

And then it was delayed again. Fears ran rampant among the cinema industry with all Cineworld screens closing until further notice, all on top of the rise in popularity that streaming had gained over the last few years anyway. Was this the beginning of the end for the big screen experience?

Well, not quite. UK theatres wouldn’t reopen in full until May 2021, by which point there were plenty of high-profile releases ready to welcome audiences back to the big screen. But by then, there had also been a lot of discussion about whether cinemas would survive in their current form, whether the day-and-date cinema and streaming release format that Disney+ had opted for a few times now would become the new norm. But cinema thrived. While that summer’s Delta variant did bite into the potential success of a few projected heavy hitters like Jungle Cruise and The Suicide Squad, the numbers were such that the public were willing to go back to the cinema. No Time to Die finally went on to become the third most successful film at the UK box office that September. But as Covid cases began to rise yet again with the arrival of the Omicron variant, this writer began to wonder whether we would see another winter dip like last year, whether any of the new releases from major franchises like Spider-Man, Matrix, and Kingsman would be delayed or even released on streaming.

But they held firm. And even amidst the highest number of covid cases in the UK by far, Spider-Man: No Way Home grossed over $1 billion worldwide, the first film to do so since December 2019. That number wouldn’t come as a shock under normal circumstances – if anything the film would probably have a shot at the $2 billion mark pre-pandemic. But the number just raises so many questions. Does the hype of a new Marvel film outweigh the risk to one’s own health and those around? Is the public consciousness of Covid lax enough to go to the cinema, even when more people are being infected than before? And what does this mean for the future, of the pandemic and film?

Covid isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, as the last year has proved. And neither is cinema. If anyone thought that box office takings during the pandemic period could never match those that came before, No Way Home shot that theory dead. Whatever the motivation, and clearly whatever the weather, people will flock to see a film only available in cinemas.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ is available in cinemas, including Weston-super-Mare’s Cineworld and Odeon, and will be available to watch on Amazon Prime soon.