Returning movie fans to Los Angeles theaters find excitement just by showing up

LOS ANGELES – Moviegoers flocked to Los Angeles-area theaters this weekend, eager to turn the page on the pandemic that forced them to spend a year watching movies from home.

“I didn’t even care what movie I was going to show. I just wanted to go back to the movies, ”said Ken Ruiz, 52, a part-time comedian and computer programmer who bought a ticket to see Walt Disney on Friday. Co.

The latest animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon” in the famous Hollywood theater of the El Capitan company.

The theater, a historic treasure that opened in 1926, is located on one of Los Angeles’ busiest thoroughfares, Hollywood Boulevard. In it, and in other theaters in the city, masks are required, spaces have been sanitized, concession vendors sell everything prepackaged behind Plexiglas, and capacity is limited to 25% or 100 people, whichever is less.

For months, executives at Hollywood’s largest movie studios and chains said that when markets in big cities like Los Angeles and New York reopened, combined with a successful launch of a Covid-19 vaccine, it would help revive the business. of the theater.

Miss me?

Now, after New York theaters opened two weeks ago and Los Angeles this weekend, the industry will see just how desperate viewers could be to return. Pre-pandemic, Los Angeles accounted for about 8% of national movie attendance, the largest metropolitan theater market in the United States, according to media measurement company Comscore.

The first reopening weekend in Los Angeles brought out the most die-hard.

“It’s a very emotional day,” said Ruiz, teary-eyed after his first visit to the cinema since March 2020. “I’m so happy to be back at the movies.”

Movie theaters occupy a special place in the history and economy of Los Angeles. So when many theaters opened on Friday for the first time in a year, people showed up, in some cases filling every available seat.

With a restricted audience size, El Capitan felt more like a Tuesday matinee at 11 a.m. Still, general manager James Wood posed for photos with local news crews, excited to see movie fans back in the halls where he has worked for two decades.

Wood was unlucky enough to be promoted to his current position just before the closures closed public spaces. “My whole focus was on this moment,” Wood said, pleased that two of the day’s four screenings had been sold out with limited capacity. “People want to go back to the movies.”

Kelly Marie Tran, left, a member of the voice cast in Disney’s animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and co-director Carlos López Estrada, present the film to audiences Friday at El Capitan.


Chris Pizzello / Associated Press

With no more than a hundred people in the roughly 1,000-seat El Capitan, people weren’t embarrassed to put their feet up on the chairs in front of them or pull down their masks to eat snacks.

Data compiled by the National Research Group, which has tracked viewer sentiment for 40 years, says that 57% of those surveyed before the weekend expressed comfort with the prospect of returning to theaters, versus a low of the 19% in April 2020.

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Although US theaters have slowly reopened in recent months, attendance has been slow as Hollywood studios shelved potential big screen shows like Paramount Pictures’ “Top Gun: Maverick,” starring Tom Cruise, and the latest James Bond movie. “No Time to Die” by MGM Holdings Inc.

“Watching all the movies back and forth back and forth broke my heart,” said Allison Sharpley, who on Friday ventured solo to her favorite local theater, AMC’s Century City 15, in order to catch Universal Pictures’ Oscar. -Nominated “Promising Young Woman”, a dark and comical tale of revenge.

Like “Raya and the Last Dragon”, “Promising Young Woman” can also be broadcast at home.

The 45-year-old healthcare professional now works at a vaccine clinic delivering up to 400 vaccines a day. He said he tried drive-ins during the pandemic to support Hollywood, as many of his friends work in the business. But sitting in a car or watching from home doesn’t compare, he said.

El Capitan General Manager James Wood was excited to see the famous Hollywood theater reopen.


RT Watson / The Wall Street Journal

“I didn’t want to see ‘Wonder Woman’ for the first time on my little 32-inch TV,” he said. “There is something in that experience and in sharing that experience with many other people. That is why I come ”.

But many people watched “Wonder Woman 1984” at home as AT&T. Inc.’s

Film studio Warner Bros. released the film in theaters and online in an effort to attract consumers to its fledgling HBO Max streaming service.

During the pandemic, Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros., Disney, and Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures have released more new movies online, a move that put many theater owners on their heels. Before, the coveted window of exclusivity of movie theaters, the time when movies were only available in movie theaters, was the foundation of their business. National box office revenue plummeted to $ 2.2 billion in 2020, up from $ 11.4 billion in 2019, according to the Motion Picture Association.

With Los Angeles reopened, the nation’s largest theater chain, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.,

says that 98% of its theaters are already operational. But the country’s second-largest chain, Cineworld Group PLC’s Regal Entertainment Group, has yet to reopen in the United States. Cinemark Holdings’ Third Largest Chain Inc.

it now has about 90% of its theaters open.

The world’s largest streaming service, Netflix Inc.,

It doesn’t rely on theater ticket sales for revenue, but the company still chose to screen its black-and-white film “Mank” in some Los Angeles-area theaters ahead of this year’s Oscars on April 25. Some viewers on Friday headed to the theater to see it on the big screen.

“Mank,” which garnered more Academy Award nominations than any other film on the Oscar field this year, is going behind the scenes in making what many critics call the greatest movie of all time, “Citizen Kane “from director Orson Welles.

Almost 80 years ago, Welles held the film’s Hollywood premiere at El Capitan in May 1941.

“This is my favorite theater,” said Shahbaaz Shah, a 38-year-old Disney animation director who dragged his two teenage sons, one of whom wants to make a movie, from the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale to El Capitan and see “Raya and the last dragon”.

When the lights came on, the scattered audience filled the auditorium with applause.

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