U.S. box office revenue dropped 80% last year, a Comscore report found last month, hitting a 40-year low and reinforcing industry concerns that hit films may not return after the explosion of streaming amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But in a recent interview, Thomas Tull — a billionaire former film producer behind blockbuster movies like "Godzilla" and "Jurassic World" — said hit movies would remain after the pandemic, even if they're increasingly watched in the home rather than the movie theater.
Top filmmakers will continue to make movies seen around the world, Tull said, but he acknowledged that the prevalence of streaming services will change how the industry monetizes films since they use "completely different metrics."
When asked whether blockbuster movies have become a thing of the past, Tull says, "I don't think so."
"I think there is still something special about collectively going and seeing something that is bigger than the imagination," says Tull, the former CEO of film production company Legendary Entertainment, who now runs a holding company called Tulco. "Everyone in the world is buzzing and talking about it."
"I was always in awe when we would put something out that would capture the imagination for a moment," he adds. "It was kind of surreal."
COVID-19 has "accelerated what was already happening," further sidelining the movie theater segment of the business and hastening the rise of streaming services, Tull said.
AT&T-owned WarnerMedia (T) sent shockwaves through the movie industry in December when it announced that it would release 2021 Warner Bros. movies simultaneously on its HBO Max streaming service when they hit movie theaters. The move began with "Wonder Woman 1984," a highly anticipated action movie released on Dec. 25 starring Gal Gadot; it will continue with major upcoming movies such as "Dune" and "Matrix 4."
The WarnerMedia decision drew backlash from prominent filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan, who called the situation "very, very, very, very messy." Last week, director Martin Scorsese added his voice to the chorus critical of the rise of streaming, saying in an essay for Harper's Magazine that the platforms worsen the quality of film because their algorithms prize consumer appeal over taste.
Tull, who worked with Nolan on "Batman Begins" and other films, said top filmmakers will continue to create captivating work, no matter how it reaches audiences.
"Besides Chris Nolan, you have Jim Cameron, Steven Spielberg — all these incredible storytellers," Tull says. "I think at the heart of this, that it's part of our cultural fabric."
"We're going to continue to see great storytellers come to the forefront," he adds. "It's just going to be viewed and experienced slightly differently."
Tull spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Since 2017, Tull has led Tulco, a holding company that helps businesses in various sectors improve through the deployment of artificial intelligence and other technical advances. He previously served as Chairman and CEO of the film production company Legendary Entertainment.
Speaking with Yahoo Finance, Tull said that the rise of streaming services allows for greater flexibility in visual storytelling.
"The thing that to me is compelling and amazing is it used to be something was a two-ish hour movie, or a 13-episode series on television and some small variations," he says.
"Now, you can do almost anything," he adds. "The duration of the story is not contained within one of those boxes."