Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

Movie theaters stuck in pandemic funk

Entertainment | Major chains close for now in hopes audiences will return
by Collin Garbarino
Posted 10/06/20, 04:32 pm

Cineworld, the owner of Regal Cinemas, announced Monday it will close its movie theaters in the United States and United Kingdom until further notice. Many of Cineworld’s locations have opened in the past two months, but they can’t keep going without a pipeline of new movies from Hollywood.

MGM announced on Friday it would delay the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, from November until April 2021. The studio originally planned to release the movie in April 2020. After theaters reopened in August and September with lackluster attendance, executives got nervous about risking the premiere of a $250 million movie before the end of the pandemic.

The debut of Christopher Nolan’s science fiction thriller Tenet on Sept. 3 was supposed to kickstart the struggling theater industry, but the movie grossed a disappointing $20 million on opening weekend. Nolan’s previous two offerings, Dunkirk (2017) and Interstellar (2014), each made about $50 million in ticket sales on opening weekend, and both had smaller budgets than Tenet. The only other major film released post-pandemic, 20th Century and Marvel Studios’ The New Mutants, earned an abysmal $7 million in its opening.

Other delayed films include Marvel’s Black Widow and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984 and Dune. Disney’s Mulan had a March 2020 release date, but after numerous delays, the company opted to forgo a theatrical run and released the film as a premium video on demand through the Disney+ streaming service.

Cineworld lost $1.6 billion in the first half of 2020. Its rival AMC, the world’s largest theater chain, posted a loss of $2.7 billion.

Things aren’t going to get better in the second half of the year, and it’s not just the big chains that are suffering. Smaller theaters don’t have the massive debts of AMC or Cineworld, but they also lack access to capital markets to stay afloat. Everyone in the industry is losing money, and some theaters won’t survive.

Last week, the National Association of Theatre Owners launched the #SaveYourCinema campaign to beg the federal government for a bailout.

“Without swift action from Congress, our favorite theaters could close forever, depriving audiences of the magic of movies for years to come,” the association said. It asked Congress to give theaters partially forgivable, seven-year loans to cover expenses for the next six months. But money from the government can only go so far. Theaters need new blockbusters to attract an audience, but studios need an assurance that the audience will show up before they release their most expensive films.

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Collin Garbarino

Collin is a correspondent and movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Lousiana State University graduate, and he teaches at Houston Baptist University. Collin resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @collingarbarino.

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