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How Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Affect The Movie Theater Industry?



People eating popcorn sitting in a movie theater.

It is almost the end of 2020 and we are still in the midst of the biggest worldwide pandemic in a century, a pandemic that has affected every single human being as well as almost every business in one way or another. One industry in particular that has been ravaged by the coronavirus is the movie theater industry.

Since businesses began to shut down due to the spread of the virus, movie theaters have remained empty for the most part, and production companies are beginning to forget about these theaters altogether.

In March, Regal, AMC, and Cinemark, the three biggest movie theater companies in the country, all shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. AMC CEO Adam Aron stated, “We are ever so disappointed for our moviegoing guests and for our employee teams that the new CDC guidelines that Americans should not gather in groups larger than 10 people make it impossible to open our theaters. Still, the health and well-being of AMC guests and employees, and of all Americans, takes precedence above all else [sic].” This caused several movies that were slated to be released in 2020 to completely shift their release dates, postponing a public release until it was possible for them to be successful, and bring in the money that they expected.

One movie that was scheduled to be released in April, on both online platforms as well as in theaters, was Trolls World Tour. In spite of the theater shut-down in March, the movie was released as scheduled, but only online, available for viewers to purchase and download, as well as on streaming platforms such as Hulu. Trolls World Tour went on to earn about $100 million after it was released. For comparison, the first Trolls movie made $157 million at its box office release. It should also be noted that the companies that create these films receive a smaller percentage of ticket sales than they get from online purchases of their released movies.

In August, movie theaters began the process of reopening, requiring customers to wear masks at all times besides when eating and drinking, as well as implementing social distancing in theaters. There were also new policies instilled to increase the number of customers returning to the theaters, such as fifteen-cent tickets on opening day, as well as five-dollar tickets for certain movies after opening day. However, they also faced several struggles with the reopening, such as seats being quickly sold out because of the need for a reasonable amount of space between people, and theaters only accepting cash due to a shortage of liquid money for the business.

Although theaters reopened, many production companies and distributors were not willing to take the risk and release their movies with the pandemic still looming and spreading rapidly. Even fully completed movies that were set to be released in upcoming months have been pushed back to 2021, in order to raise the chances that they do well at the box office, and so that companies do not have to risk the potential flop that could be caused by releasing the film online.

There was one film in particular that theaters were hoping would bring massive business back to the industry; the new James Bond movie, No Time To Die. However, a few weeks before its release in November, the release date was changed, and the movie’s launch was postponed to April 2021. This prompted all of the major movie theater companies to shut down once again. In a public statement, Mooky Greidinger, the CEO of Cineworld, the company that owns Regal, said, “We are like a grocery shop that doesn’t have vegetables, fruit, meat. We cannot operate for a long time without a product.” The recent re-closure of theaters has brought back the same question; where will the pandemic leave the movie theater industry?

The movie cover to 'No Time To Die.'

Even though most theaters throughout the country remain closed to the public, many companies have begun offering entire theaters to rent to groups of people for a set price, so that instead of sitting with strangers at a movie, people will at least be able to choose friends and family that they know are safe from the virus. AMC is offering groups of up to 20 people to use one of their theaters for a starting price of $99. These companies are showing whichever new releases are available, as well as taking requests to show movies that were released in the past.

As the virus continues to spread, the future of the movie industry remains unsure. Dr. Cory Barker, a Bradley University media professor who has been doing research on how the pandemic is affecting the industry, stated, “I think the theaters are hoping that they will have the ability to hold out until at least until the spring of 2021. I’m not sure. You know, I don’t think any of us are sure of a vaccine or anything like that. But I think that they’re hopeful that they will be able to get a film here and there. And as our ability to contain the virus hopefully improves, they will have an ability to slowly rebuild the confidence from the consumers.”

A picture of the front entrance to a AMC theater.

From online distributors actually making money off their digital releases to theaters getting to the point where they need to rent out their spaces, if things do not change soon, companies like AMC and Regal are likely to go bankrupt, and the world of digital movies will begin to take over.