West Side Story’s unsuccessful release tells us that we have undergone a fundamental shift in how we watch movies in America. And the entertainment industry should see it for what it is. Many thought as the pandemic spread and the theaters closed that it would all snap back as soon as the pandemic was over. People would flock back to do what they’ve been doing for more than a century, not only out of habit but tradition: They’d go out to the movies.

“But a technological revolution came; the pandemic speeded up what had already begun, just as it speeded up the Zoom revolution that is transforming business and office work.

“People got streaming services and watched movies at home. They got used to it. They liked it. They’d invite friends and stream new releases together. Or they stayed in their pajamas and watched it.

“I never thought movie theaters would go out of style, but I see that in the past few months, since New York has loosened up and things are open, I have gone to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows five times and to a movie not at all, except this week for this column. Like all Americans, I really love movies. But I can watch them at home.

“The old world of America at the movies, of gathering at the local temple of culture, the multiplex, is over. People won’t rush out to see a movie they heard was great but that’s confined to theatrical release; they’ll stay home knowing it will be streaming soon.

“Movie theaters won’t completely go out of business; a good number will survive because people will fill them to go to superhero movies and big fantastical action films. People will want to see those on the screen together and hoot and holler. But it will never again be as it was, different generations, different people, coming together on Saturday night at the bijou. The bijou is at home now, on the couch or bed, streaming in UHD.” — from Peggy Noonan‘s “West Side Story and the Decline of the Movie Theater,” Wall Street Journal, 12.16.21.