“It’s not really about just playing ‘Air,’” said Greg Marcus, chief executive of the Marcus Corporation, a movie entertainment and lodging business in Milwaukee. “The bigger, more important story is its commitment to doing a theatrical slate so that some of it’s going to work and some of it won’t. Success should be judged over an entire slate and include all revenue generated throughout the life of the slate.”
Between the advent of streaming and consumer habit changes brought on by the pandemic, Hollywood has been constantly re-evaluating how it thinks about movie theaters. The common wisdom over the past year is that superhero movies still draw crowds (even if the numbers are waning), as do films with wild spectacle (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) or established characters (“Creed III”).
Less certain are the films that Mr. Affleck prefers to traffic in, especially when he’s behind the camera: adult dramas with touches of comedy and an earnest feel-good bent, like his Oscar-winning “Argo.” Recent Oscar contenders, like Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” disappointed at the box office.
But a strong performance for “Air” could indicate to the industry that movies for adults are still viable in theaters. Apple, which previously eschewed theaters, already has plans to release both Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” theatrically this year.
That could encourage other distributors to release more films in theaters, and filmmakers eager for streaming money but still yearning for their work to be seen on the big screen may look to Amazon. (“Air” brought in $3.2 million at the box office on Wednesday, and Amazon is expecting it to gross a modest $16 million through the weekend.)
“I think there is a legitimate case to be made that some movies are better experienced in the theater with a group of people,” Mr. Affleck said. “If they can provide robust theatrical releases where the movies are well supported, then it will move Amazon to the front of the pack.”
When Ms. Salke, a veteran television executive, took over Amazon’s studio in 2018, her knowledge of the movie business was cursory at best. She had spent years overseeing television at NBC, shepherding hits like “This Is Us.” At the beginning of her tenure, she plunked down close to $50 million for five movies at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The films, including “Late Night,” and “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” underperformed.