After three months of near-total blackout of cinemas nationwide, movie theaters are preparing to reopen — even if it means only a few titles on the marquee and showings limited to as little as 25 percent capacity
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AMC Theaters, the world’s largest theater operator, said on Tuesday it expects to have 97 to 98 percent of its theaters worldwide reopen by mid-July. The National Association of Theater Owners, the trade group that represents exhibitors, expects some 90 to 95 percent of cinemas around the world will be opened by mid-July.
Last week, it flagged “substantial doubts” about its ability to continue operations if it was forced to keep its theaters closed for a longer period.
AMC on Tuesday said it was conducting an “exhaustive analysis” of its theaters to determine which ones to shut permanently, owing to lack of profitability. A lot is still “fluid”, as stated by AMC Entertainment Chief Executive Adam Aron.
Though a handful of movies have been steered to streaming or on-demand platforms during the pandemic, most studio films have been postponed until theaters reopen. Universal Pictures has moved more aggressively to digitally distribute some of its films, drawing the fury of theater owners. AMC, which previously said it would cease playing Universal releases, said on Tuesday it remains in “active negotiations” with the studio but no Universal movies “are currently on our docket”.
Provided flare-ups of coronavirus do not unmake plans, the industry is gearing up for a dramatic resumption of widespread business just in time for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.
The Warner Bros thriller, the latest from arguably Hollywood’s most passionate defender of the big-screen experience, is slated for release on 17 July.
Warner Bros did not comment late Tuesday, and the most recent trailer for Tenet was notably vague on its release date. But theater owners are cautiously optimistic that Tenet will hold where it is. Aron said AMC’s conversations as recent as Monday with Warner Bros and Disney, which has Mulan slated for 24 July, have been reassuring.
Before Tenet arrives, theaters will play — just as those that are currently open are showing — recent and classic catalog offerings. The Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged, from Solstice Studios, is also scheduled for 1 July. Shortly after AMC’s announcement, Sony Pictures said it will roll out the romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Gallery on 10 July, only in theaters.
Although 25 percent capacity may sound like an untenable business model, Aron said movie theaters are usually part-empty, calling them — unlike typically sold-out Broadway theaters — “a church built for Easter Sunday”. He was optimistic box-office returns would not be badly jeopardised, especially since 12 to 20 screen multiplexes will likely be showing only a handful of films. With so many working from home owing to the pandemic, moviegoing may also not be as focused on Friday and Saturday.
“We have faith in a theatrical rebound, and we look forward to being there right out of the gate with our exhibition partners’ anticipated reemergence, as — and when — state-by-state safety guidelines are met,” said Josh Greenstein, president of Sony’s Motion Picture Group.
The larger question might be whether moviegoers feel safe returning to theaters. Health officials have warned that large indoor gatherings are risky. Broadway theaters will remain dark through at least early September. It will be up to movie theater operators to convince moviegoers that it is safe to once again sit in the dark among strangers.
Only recently have state guidelines allowed the reopening of theaters in California (including in the country’s top market, Los Angeles, where local officials have yet to agree). In New York City, open cinemas come in phase four of its reopening schedule. It began phase one only on Monday. Aron granted New York theaters, which constitute the second-largest market, may not open in time for Tenet.
Theaters have slowly been reopening in other areas of the country, while a renaissance of drive-ins has flourished. Cinemark, which operates about 6,000 US screens, has said it will begin reopening in late June, and fully reopen by July 10. Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas, the world’s second-largest chain, is also tracking for a July reopening.
Much like most other out-of-home entertainment businesses, movie theater chains have also been hit by lockdowns and social distancing measures, which further added to the challenges owing to a broader consumer shift to streaming services. But AMC’s announcement on Tuesday signaled the most ambitious and widespread plan for a resumption of business.
“After a period of time where billions of people have endured confinement and limited social interaction, we believe that there will be a significant pent-up demand to get back out in the world,” said Aron. “Having said that, we’re under no illusions. The waters will be choppy. There may be unforeseen tosses and turns to be navigated through. And full recovery may take quite a while.”
AMC, like other chains, expects to limit audience sizes to facilitate social distancing, including keeping cinemas 25 to 50 percent full, and blocking out seats. Cinemas will be regularly cleaned. Ordering concessions will be possible from an app. As a kind of test case, AMC has already opened 10 theaters in Europe. Three theaters in Norway sold 83 percent of available tickets, said Aron.
The prolonged closure has had a crushing effect on theater chains, forcing the furloughing and firing of tens of thousands of workers. Rumors of bankruptcy have swirled around AMC. On Tuesday, it said it lost $2.18 billion in the second quarter. Ticket sales have overall been on a slow decline. Aron acknowledged some cinemas will stay shut.
(With agency inputs)
Updated Date: Jun 10, 2020 10:01:55 IST
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