Movie theaters, shuttered for months, plan July reopening

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This May 14, 2020, photo shows an AMC theater sign at a nearly empty parking lot for the theater in Londonderry, N.H. After three months of near total blackout of cinemas nationwide, movie theaters are preparing to reopen - even if it means only a few titles on the marquee and showings limited to as little as 25% capacity. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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By JAKE COYLE (AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — After three months of near total blackout of cinemas nationwide, movie theaters are preparing to reopen — even if it means only a few titles on the marquee and showings limited to as little as 25% capacity.

AMC Theaters, the world’s largest theater operator, said Tuesday that it expects to have 97-98% of its theaters worldwide reopened by mid-July. The National Association of Theater Owners, the trade group that represents exhibitors, expects some 90-95% of cinemas around the world will be opened by mid-July.

A lot is still “fluid,” as AMC Entertainment’s chief executive, Adam Aron, said in a call Tuesday with investors. But provided flare ups of the coronavirus don’t unmake plans, the industry is gearing up for a dramatic resumption of widespread business just in time for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” The Warner Bros. thriller, the latest from arguably Hollywood’s most passionate defender of the big-screen experience, is slated for release July 17.

Warner Bros. didn’t comment late Tuesday, and the most recent trailer for “Tenet” was notably vague on its release date. But theater owners are cautiously optimistic that “Tenet” will hold where it is. Aron said that AMC’s conversations as recent as Monday with Warner Bros. and Disney, which has “Mulan” slated for July 24, have been reassuring.

The larger question might be whether moviegoers feel safe returning to theaters. Health officials have warned that large indoor gatherings are risky. Broadway theaters will remain dark through at least early September. It will be up to movie theater operators to convince moviegoers that it’s safe to once again sit in the dark among strangers.

Warner Bros. didn’t comment late Tuesday, and the most recent trailer for “Tenet” was notably vague on its release date. But theater owners are cautiously optimistic that “Tenet” will hold where it is. Aron said that AMC’s conversations as recent as Monday with Warner Bros. and Disney, which has “Mulan” slated for July 24, have been reassuring.

The larger question might be whether moviegoers feel safe returning to theaters. Health officials have warned that large indoor gatherings are risky. Broadway theaters will remain dark through at least early September. It will be up to movie theater operators to convince moviegoers that it’s safe to once again sit in the dark among strangers.

“We have faith in a theatrical rebound, and we look forward to being there right out of the gate with our exhibition partners’ anticipated reemergence, as — and when — state-by-state safety guidelines are met,” said Josh Greenstein, president of Sony’s Motion Picture Group.

The prolonged closure has had a crushing effect on theater chains, forcing the furloughing and firing of tens of thousands of workers. Rumors of bankruptcy have swirled around AMC. On Tuesday, it said it lost $2.18 billion in the second quarter. Ticket sales have overall been on a slow decline. Aron acknowledged some cinemas will stay shut.

Though a handful of movies have been steered to streaming or on-demand platforms during the pandemic, most studio films have been postponed until theaters reopen. Universal Pictures has moved more aggressively to put digitally distribute some of its films, drawing the fury of theater owners. AMC, which previously said it would cease playing Universal releases, said Tuesday that it remains in “active negotiations” with the studio but that no Universal movies “are currently on our docket.”

 

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