Ex Disney Boss Bob Iger Predicts Disappointing Change for Movie Theaters in the Future

During his time as the CEO of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger made it clear that he was a forward thinker and a man with his finger on the pulse. At almost every turn of his career he knew which way the wind was about to blow, and not just because he used to be a weatherman. While leading Disney, Iger took charge of their future in a big way by acquiring hte likes of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox, four acquisitions that have made Disney the entertainment behemoth that it is now and will continue to be. Speaking in a new interview, and considering his track record of soothsaying, Iger had a grim prediction for the future of movie theaters, and it may well be partially his fault.

"I think what Covid did actually- it accelerated a change in consumer behavior, which is that pre-Covid, there was growth in these streaming services," Iger told The New York Times. "What Covid did is, it forced people in, and people still wanted to be entertained, so they figured out how to use- basically, I call it app-based television or app-based entertainment. And they got really comfortable with it. They not only like it. They discovered that there's huge choice. There's tremendous amount of quality for everybody. The good side of this for talent is that because of technology, which enables more distribution and more consumption, what the industry has discovered with the growth and consumption is a growth in production. So there's a lot more being made."

Here comes the prediction, when prompted by this answer to consider if the success of streaming is the "death" of movie theaters, Iger replied:

"I don't think it's the death. I think it's a severe injury that maybe doesn't heal. And what I mean by that is- not fatal. It might be fatal to some. Let's start with the movie-going experience, to say something good about that. I think that people will still want to go to movies. However, they will be much more, I think, discerning about what movies they want to see out of the home, where you're likely, I think, to say or ask yourself, wait a minute, is this a movie I need to see on the big screen and do all that, or can I wait or not even wait, for that matter, and see it at home? You know, Spider-Man (No Way Home), which Marvel and Walt Disney Company produced for Sony, when that came out there was a slew of people around the world wanting to see it first weekend. And there are films like that. But there are a lot of films that don't fit into that category, or that don't really need to be watched in a larger-than-life experience. And so I think what you're going to see is far fewer films released for the big screen."

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic there were routinely between 550 and 600 feature films released in theaters every year, from your 4,600 screen releases like Avengers: Endgame to single screen indie films. In 2020 there was only data for 280 theatrical releases while 2021 saw just over 350 movies released in theaters. 

It's not exactly a shocking prediction for Iger to assume that the landscape of what kinds of movies released in theaters will change over the course of the next few years, audiences have shown for over a decade now that major blockbusters and IP-driven reboots and sequels are what they're most interested in seeing. 

In 2019, the last "normal" year of box office and feature film releases, every single movie in the Top 10 for the year were either reboots, sequels, or part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; with seven of the Top 10 all releases from Disney. The last movie to crack the Top 10 in any given year that didn't fit that bill was Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018 and The Secret Life of Pets, Zootopia, and Sing in 2016 prior.

So yes, audiences are getting to the point where they're going to be very picky about what they see in theaters, so Bob is correct, but the film's he spearheaded and made sure were produced by Disney in his tenure, not to mention the development and launch of Disney+, are partially to blame.