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Movie theaters nonexistent? Check out hottest non-Netflix films

Margot Robbie stars in "Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey," reprising her role as Harley Quinn. The character first debuted in the infamous "Suicide Squad" released in 2016.  – Photo by Birds of Prey / Twitter

In December, Warner Bros. announced that its entire 2021 lineup would be released on HBO Max, causing critics to decry the potential end of movie theaters as we know it. I wasn’t too pleased myself, to be honest, as I’m a huge moviegoer and love the theatrical experience. But I am cognizant of the reality we are living in.

First of all, the pandemic has not made it easy to attend movie theaters. Even with theaters slowly reopening, I personally find myself reluctant to watch anything in a public space.

More importantly, though, Netflix is a major competitor of HBO Max and other streaming services, like Hulu or Amazon Prime Video, and with its more than 70 million U.S. subscribers and more than 182 worldwide subscribers, there just doesn’t seem to be a way for the competitors to get ahead.

Instead of constantly squabbling over who owns the rights to stream the same three shows, such as “Friends” or “The Office,” HBO Max and other platforms may have found a way to differentiate themselves from the market — produce or publish their own original content.

Sure, Netflix is a large competitor in this area as well, but it is definitely facing steeper competition than ever before. Here are just a few examples of said competition:

"Palm Springs"

Bought for $17.5 million by the indie distributor Neon and Hulu at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Palm Springs” is the story of nihilistic Nyles, played by Andy Samberg, a wedding guest who stumbles into a cave that coincidentally houses a time loop continuum, and self-destructive Sarah, played by Cristin Milioti, the sister of the bride getting married.

When the two get trapped in the time loop together, hijinks ensue. With its cleverly written dialogue and actual burst-out-loud laughable moments, this comedy was genuine.

I do have to say for those who are deeply obsessed with understanding time travel, that the explanation in this movie might be a tad simplistic, but trust me when I say that the fun of a never-ending time loop is in the characters finding unique ways to die rather than the physics of it all.

Financed and produced by Limelight Productions and released on July 10, 2020, to U.S. audiences by Neon, this film is available exclusively on Hulu.

"The King of Staten Island"

Initially, this film was supposed to be available to drive-in moviegoers when it was released on June 25, 2020, but Universal Pictures pulled it from theaters last-minute to have an exclusive video-on-demand release. The movie was made available to Hulu and, more recently, HBO Max subscribers.

The King of Staten Island'' features "Saturday Night Live" regular Pete Davidson as Scott, also the name of Davidson’s real father, who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks serving as a member of the New York City Fire Department.

All Scott wants to be is a tattoo artist, but in between his mom finding new romance and his sister going off to college, Scott finds it harder and harder to feel like his life isn’t out of his control.

Granted, this semi-autobiographical movie lacks a certain direction but nonetheless is a revealing and enthralling look into the psyche of a somewhat-controversial representative of today’s generation.

To be sure, the scenes where Scott finds himself living the life of a fireman in New York City are a highlight of this film and serve as a compelling, behind-the-scenes look at this nation’s bravest volunteers.

"Soul"

This idea began as the brainchild of a couple of journalists at Pixar and was released on Disney+ for subscribers to watch on Christmas. “Soul” follows the journey of Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, a struggling jazz musician who, just when he finally gets a chance to live out his lifelong dream of performing on stage, dies.

He winds up in the in-between place, space where souls who have yet to be born are given personalities and what Gardner believes to be a purpose.

Ironically, this sure-to-be children’s classic and “Palm Springs” have a lot more in common than one might imagine — both happen to take a good, hard look at what even is a person’s purpose on Earth. There’s a lot to unpack from this movie, not least of which is the identity of Soul 22, voiced by Tina Fey, in the Pixar universe. I know! Mind-boggling.

If you bemoaned the seeming end of Pixar’s ability to make you re-evaluate your whole life, this movie is sure to remind you that Pixar is still very much in control of your heart.

"Wonder Woman 1984" and/or "Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey"

You know the aforementioned apocalypse hitting the film industry I mentioned earlier — yeah, these two films may have been the catalysts. Theaters in America have long been predicted to fail due to the proliferation of streaming services, yet they have managed to stay alive for this long due to one genre: superhero flicks.

While you technically can no longer stream “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max, as it was only available from Dec. 25, 2020, to Jan. 24, it was possible to watch it on the platform for a brief period of time. In this sequel to the female-led blockbuster, Gal Gadot reprises her role as the cool, calm and collected demi-goddess. This time, she’s set in Washington, D.C. in the ‘80s.

Overall, it’s an interesting film with a beautiful aesthetic, which makes me sad that I missed out on seeing it in theaters, but one that breaks the mold of a superhero movie less than its predecessor, “Wonder Woman,” did.

In contrast, “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey,” rated R for gore and language, takes the typical formula and adds the narration of a jilted-in-love, mentally insane pyromaniac to spice things up.

It’s fun. Really fun. And on an even more important note, it sets up the D.C.-verse for more female-led “superhero” (or vigilante?) films.

No matter what you choose to watch, make sure to take a moment to appreciate that the one indisputably good thing to come out of the fighting between capitalistic enterprises and behemoths, like Disney, Netflix and HBO Max, is that the consumer is treated as a king once more.

We are arguably in an era where innovation in Hollywood is dead, but if streaming platforms continue to fight for the best that indie production companies and self-funded entrepreneurs have to offer, we might just get out of this creativity rut yet. And if a byproduct of their competition is that I’m given more content to enjoy while the creators themselves are paid everything they deserve, you definitely won’t hear me complaining.


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