American Movie Theaters Face Uncertain Future

July 14, 2020

Last month, we looked at AMC Theatres’ plans to reopen on July 15th with expanded safety measures. But after major studios delayed the release of upcoming blockbusters like Tenet and Mulan, the chain pushed back its reopening plans to July 30th. Still, even this goal could be optimistic as cases of coronavirus continue to rise across the country. “Twenty days ago, I would’ve said we’re on track,” said David Gross, head of the film consultancy company Franchise Entertainment Research. “But this latest spike is just awful.”

About 1,300 U.S. movie theaters remain open, which includes nearly 300 drive-ins. Once thought to be relics of the 1950s, drive-in theaters have enjoyed a resurgence of interest since moviegoers can easily practice social distancing in their cars. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the country’s 5,550 indoor theaters could stay closed for the foreseeable future. Those that continue to operate are struggling to attract audiences without new Hollywood titles. Many theaters are screening classic movies but have not been able to bring in steady crowds without new films. 

“The older movies just didn’t necessarily cut it,” said Chris Johnson, CEO of the Illinois-based chain Classic Cinemas. “You can only have so many showings of Jurassic Park and Harry Potter. At the end of the day, our livelihood is new movies. We’re going to make sure the new releases are set in stone before we get excited.” Movie studios are unlikely to further delay major motion pictures like Mulan since global movie theaters have reopened in nations that have successfully flattened the coronavirus curve. With Covid-19 cases once again spiking in the U.S., however, it remains to be seen if American movie theaters will be able to accommodate audiences in the short or long term. 

Questions:

  1. Why have drive-in theaters seen a resurgence of interest during the pandemic?
  2. Do you think American movie theaters will be able to successfully reopen in the coming weeks? Why or why not?

Source: Ryan Faughnder, “Movie Theaters Face ‘Existential’ Threat From Covid-19: ‘Without New Movies, It’s Over,’” Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2020.

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