Here's why you won't be going to the movies once everything reopens

Some states are beginning to slowly allow businesses to reopen as long as efforts continue to be made to combat the coronavirus. Social distancing and personal protection equipment, like face masks, are still required in many places. One place you won’t be patronizing any time soon, though, is your local movie theatre no matter where you live.

Movie theatre chains have decided to go by their own schedules, not those being put into place by governors who are reopening individual states. For example, the executive order signed by Governor Abbott a few days ago allows movie theatres to open today in Texas with social distancing measures still in effect. Theatres have to abide by Phase One rules, though, and only 25% occupancy is allowed. There are specifications on seating, too. There will not be many Texas residents going to the movies today. That’s because only one spot is going to reopen – one chain in San Antonio is opening three theatres with strict limitations in place.

If you are a regular moviegoer, you’ll likely have to wait until midsummer to check out the latest movie release.

Most large theater chains, closed since mid-March, have declined to take advantage of the voluntary reopening date. Cinemark, Studio Movie Grill and Alamo Drafthouse locations will remain closed until further notice, citing the safety of both customers and staff as issues that must be addressed before the public is invited back for films and concessions.

Cinemark said Tuesday it’s proceeding with plans for a midsummer opening. AMC Theatres is targeting a similar date, according to a report from the entertainment news site Deadline.

Movie theatres are remaining closed in other states that are beginning to reopen, like Florida. Governor DeSantis encourages getting out for some fresh air. “You are much better off being outdoors,” he said.

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) released a statement.

“While some states and localities are beginning to authorize the opening of movie theaters under certain conditions, the movie theater industry is also a national one. Until the majority of markets in the U.S. are open, and major markets in particular, new wide release movies are unlikely to be available. As a result, some theaters in some areas that are authorized to open may be able economically to reopen with repertory product; however, many theaters will not be able to feasibly open,” said NATO this morning in a statement.

The big chains, Deadline has confirmed –AMC, Regal, and Cinemark– won’t be re-opening anytime soon. While AMC is eyeing early June, and Cinemark around July 1, Regal still hasn’t officially said when they’ll re-open.

Other states allowing cinemas to re-open include Tennessee, South Carolina and Mississippi. One independent theater owner in Kentucky told Deadline he plans to have his cinemas open for Memorial Day weekend.

“At this time, we have not made a decision when to reopen Regal theatres. We are constantly following the information provided by authorities. In order to open our theatres, at first we will need to ensure the safety of our guests and employees. At the same time, we are working closely with our studio partners on when they will make their movies available. We will continue to work with both authorities and the studios in order to host our audiences and show them the big blockbusters in a safe environment,” Regal said in a statement sent to Deadline.

It makes sense, business-wise for the theatres to wait until guidelines loosen up. Theatre owners’ profits won’t make it worth their efforts to reopen with restricted capacity and also, there is a problem with the availability of new movie releases. The coronavirus interrupted Hollywood, too, and an interesting thing happened. In order to keep afloat, before the coronavirus pandemic closed businesses down, movie theatres received new releases and there was a certain time period before those new movies were released to on-demand streaming services. That has changed now and a good example was an announcement that “Trolls World Tour” would be simultaneously released to movie theatres (even before the theatres closed down) and on-demand streaming by NBCUniversal. Universal announced it may continue to do business this way. The movie has been a huge hit. Theatre owners are not happy, to state the obvious.

After taking a victory lap in the press over the digital success of “Trolls World Tour,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell suggested on Tuesday that the studio may start to do more simultaneous releases of its movies in theaters and on-demand, even when theaters reopen.

Now a big ole fight is going on between AMC and Universal. AMC says their chain of more than 1,000 theatres will no longer show Universal’s films. NATO argues that the success of “Trolls World Tour” is due to everyone being stuck at home and looking for family entertainment.

“AMC’s position in this matter, which is to never show Universal pictures again, is absolutely not only the correct response for a theater chain to have, but really it’s their only response,” said Tom Nunan, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “That kind of comment from Jeff Shell could be a death knell for theater chains.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t limiting the movies a theatre will show from a huge studio going to produce a loss of revenue? It seems like in order to make a point, the chain is willing to cut off its nose to spite its face, doesn’t it? Theatres make their profits from openings of new movies, that’s clear, and of course from the overpriced snacks and beverages at the concession stand. I just don’t think that severing a relationship with a major movie distributor made in anger is the solution to potential continued economic worries.

“We are dealing with a wrecked business,” said Jonathan Kuntz, who teaches film history at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “And AMC knows it, and their investors know it, and it’s why you are seeing an imminent risk of death to that company.”

Theaters thrive on having the exclusive first window for a film. It’s what drives consumers out of their homes. If studios were to start releasing films in theaters and on-demand at the same time, it would not only take ticket revenue away from exhibitors, it would also mean concession revenue would take a hit.

Last year, the movie theater industry took in $15 billion in revenue domestically, a combination of around $11 billion in ticket sales and $4 billion in concessions. Globally, ticket sales soared to a new high of $42.5 billion.

Is anyone going to want to go to a movie theatre when the pandemic fades? Sure they will. Moviegoers who enjoy that activity will still do it. It’s just going to be different for at least a while, whether movie selections are limited or something like a seating arrangement is restricted. Do you know what is making a comeback? Drive-in movies. How fun is that?