Theaters are finally reopening: will you go?


One year after the Covid-19 pandemic, Hollywood studios and cinemas hope that recovery is on the way.

Some theaters in two of America’s largest box office markets, New York City and San Francisco, will be open this weekend after being closed for most of last year. As cities slowly reopen public spaces and more Americans are getting vaccinated for Covid-19, the cinema is poised to return, although there is a long way to go before every screen in the country flickers on.

The owners of the cinemas are preparing. Some Hollywood executives are previewing movie releases that had been delayed. And for movies slated to hit theaters in the coming weeks, customer interest in returning, plus box office results in New York City and San Francisco, will begin to put the wisdom of unprecedented decisions to the test. of the studies in the last year, that is to say, to release films. simultaneously in cinemas and in digital broadcast services.

Movie theaters in other parts of the US have been open for months, including in Florida, Texas and Ohio, but the box office results have been disappointing. The few largest theater markets in the US account for a large percentage of box office revenue when a movie comes out.

“The adrenaline is definitely pumping and definitely excited for the reopening,” said Scott Rosemann, who runs New York City’s Angelika Film Center in trendy SoHo, as well as two other theaters around the city. “With the fact that we should have all adults in the US vaccinated by the end of May, it gives me great hope that we will have a summer blockbuster season.”

President Biden said earlier this week that he hopes the United States will have sufficient supplies of vaccines for all American adults by the end of May.

Still, theater owners are unable to fill auditoriums and many of the major theater markets remain closed, including at the Hollywood studios’ home base in Los Angeles.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced plans to “open Texas 100%,” which will allow companies to operate at full capacity and end the state mask mandate beginning March 10. Photo: David J. Phillip / AP

Cineworld Group CNWGY 3.28%

PLC’s Regal Entertainment Group, while encouraged by the reopens, said it will delay the resumption of operations at its more than 500 US theaters until its leadership is convinced that big-budget movies are sure to follow. “Once Los Angeles does the same, we are confident that the studios will maintain their release dates for new films, which will allow us to reopen our theaters,” the company said.

Both New York City and San Francisco require theaters to limit attendance to 25%, and theaters will require viewers to wear masks. And it is unknown whether a long-anticipated pent-up demand for popcorn and big screens will manifest, following more than 500,000 deaths in the United States from Covid-19 and persistent public fear of gathering indoors.

Hollywood’s largest studio, Disney,

DIS 1.04%

have some confidence. On Friday, the studio will debut “Raya and the Last Dragon” in more than 2,000 theaters across North America. It has been a year since Disney opened a new movie in national theaters.

Disney is simultaneously making the film available to subscribers to its Disney + streaming service for an additional $ 30, which means some people are likely to watch the animated family movie at home.

The last film that Disney released exclusively in North American theaters was Pixar’s “Onward.” It hit more than 4,000 theaters on March 6, 2020, but flopped at the box office amid the worsening pandemic and theater closures.

John Krasinski, director of the highly anticipated Paramount Pictures sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” announced on Twitter Thursday night that the premiere of his film has been brought forward to Memorial Day weekend in May from its scheduled release. previously in September.

Sony Pictures Entertainment is also optimistic about May. This week, the studio said it would release “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” in May instead of June. The studio decided to release the film in theaters earlier due to recent signs of recovery and encouraging demand for family movies, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Family movies have fared better than others in recent weeks. Universal Pictures’ animated sequel “The Croods: A New Age” grossed $ 52.4 million through last weekend, according to Comscore, after a relatively strong 14-week run in theaters. Last weekend, another family title, Warner Bros. ‘”Tom & Jerry,” took first place nationally after generating $ 13.7 million in ticket revenue, Comscore also said.

Like all of the studio’s 2021 releases, “Tom & Jerry” could also be seen on streaming service HBO Max, which, like Warner Bros., is a unit run by AT&T. Inc.’s

WarnerMedia.

During the pandemic, Hollywood studios focused on their streaming services, delayed the launch of their most coveted projects, or sold movies to competitors for online distribution. As a result, the nation’s largest theater chains, including Regal, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., and Cinemark Holdings Inc.,

CNK 1.93%

saw their chances of generating income diminish. AMC managed to defend itself from bankruptcy several times over the past year.

As select cities and states have loosened restrictions amid the fluctuations of the pandemic, AMC and Cinemark reopened some theaters with reduced capacity. They also implemented social distancing measures and reinforced hygiene protocols.

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Many theater owners hope that Hollywood studios will start releasing high-profile movies again only after viewers show they are comfortable heading back to multiplexes and the rest of California, primarily Los Angeles, also reopens.

Franchised films, such as MGM Holdings Inc.’s latest James Bond installment “No Time to Die” and Disney’s Marvel spinoff “Black Widow,” generally drive the majority of ticket sales. The two films, among many other big-budget titles, have been repeatedly delayed during the pandemic. Currently, “Black Widow” is scheduled for early May in the US and Canada, while “No Time To Die” is scheduled for October 8.

In an effort to bring life back to normal, Texas Governor Greg Abbott took a more aggressive approach than many other states and businesses when he lifted pandemic-related restrictions on businesses in Texas and canceled the state mask mandate. .

The measure brings a series of complications for companies, including cinema chains. Tim League, founder and CEO of Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas Holdings LLC, joined a chorus of companies that said they would continue to follow public health recommendations and uphold Covid-19 protection protocols. The chain also announced this week that it had to permanently close two locations in Texas as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

“If now you relax the mandates of the mask, what happens to the people who are in the place, who work there every day? They are at risk, ”League said.

While League says it ranks this week’s news as some of the best it has heard in months, its Alamo theaters in New York City and San Francisco will be closed this weekend because of the network’s dining experience requires additional preparation before reopening. .

“There are many signs of encouragement and I am sure later this year we will return to some level of normality,” he said. “But it all depends on how comfortable people are in getting out of the house.”

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