Why movie theaters are in trouble after DOJ nixes 70-year-old case

Enlarge / The House of Mouse is the shadow lurking in the future of movie theaters. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

If you went to the movies in 2019, you probably saw a Disney movie. Seven of the top 10 highest-grossing films released in the United States last year were distributed by the House of Mouse, and hundreds of millions of people went to see them on thousands of screens. Some weeks it felt like the entire film industry was Disney: Captain Marvel and the rest of the Avengers (Endgame) competed for your attention for a while, as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Toy Story 4 kept up a steady drumbeat of animation until Elsa dropped back onto hapless households in Frozen II. In amongst that morass, though, there were still other movies shown, many of them popular with audiences and critics alike.

But now, the rule that prevented a studio from buying up a major theater chain is now gone—opening up the possibility that your local cinema could go whole hog and become a true Disneyplex before you know it.

On Friday, a federal judge agreed to the Department of Justice’s petition to vacate the Paramount Consent Decrees, a landmark 1948 ruling that forbade vertical integration in the film sector and ended the Hollywood studio system. In isolation, the decision could raise some concerns. In a world where theaters are decimated thanks to a pandemic and consolidation among media firms is already rampant, the future for independent theaters looks grim.

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