As the country takes the first baby steps back from the coronavirus shutdown, movie theaters could be one of the early beneficiaries.
Cinemas would be allowed to reopen in the first of three phases under the guidelines released Thursday by the White House.
Just when theaters, along with restaurants, sports stadiums and churches, will be allowed to welcome back the public under the Trump administration plan is yet to be seen. It will be left largely up to governors to decide when their states are ready to take the first step back to what was once considered normal.
President Donald Trump, in announcing the reopening at his daily news conference, said some are more ready than others. The plan didn’t include a timetable.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of states open relatively soon,” Trump said. “I don’t want anyone coming back who isn’t in position to come back.” He added about the reopening, however, “I think it will be much faster than people think.”
Some industry watchers worry that the plan may raise false hope when the coronavirus may be in decline in some cities, but is still raging.
“I shook my head when I saw this,” said Jeff Bock, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, a data and research firm for the entertainment industry. “I don’t know how that happens right now when lives are still at stake.”
Even if some theaters were to open now, when many film fans are still gun-shy about leaving home, it’s unlikely Hollywood executives would allow the more-popular fare to be screened.
“No studio is going to drop huge summer blockbusters, with a hundred theaters open or even a thousand,” Bock said. “We’re going to get small, genre films that sort of test the marketplace, but we’re certainly not going to get blockbusters.”
Studios have already made that clear, pushing back release dates of their bigger fare.
Disney’s Marvel film “Black Widow” will now come to theaters in the fall. The live-action version of the animated “Mulan,” originally been slated for March 27, will now hit July 24.
“Top Gun: Maverick,” a Tom Cruise-lead sequel 30-odd years in the making, goes from being a summer movie to a holiday release, Paramount Pictures said. Another animated feature, “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” makes a shift from May 22 to July 31. The Chris Pratt film “The Tomorrow War” is being delayed indefinitely. It had been planned for Christmas.
For Universal Pictures, moviegoers will have to wait a full year before they can see “Minions: The Rise of Gru.” Instead of a July 3 release, it moves to July 2, 2021.
And when theaters do reopen, the experience won’t be the same.
Social distancing will still play a starring role, at least in the early days. Theaters will be able to operate “under strict physical distancing protocols,” according to the plan.
That could mean many seats or even entire rows blocked off.
But for theater chains, among the hardest hit by the coronavirus shutdown, just being able to sell tickets and Cokes again could be a financial godsend.
The news is sure to be embraced in an industry that has built many plots around comebacks, though the National Association of Theater Owners did not have any immediate comment on the proposal.
The pandemic was only the latest blow as theaters have competed for attention from a public that has increasingly turned to streaming and home entertainment. Theater executives hope, however, that moviegoers are anxious to get out of the house and head to the multiplex.
Cinemark Holdings, which had to close its 345 theaters last month as part of stop-the-spread movement, said earlier this week that it has about $500 million to see it through the crisis.
“We look forward to once again opening our theatres and welcoming moviegoers to experience the magic of cinematic storytelling on our big screens in the not-too-distant future,” said CEO Mark Zoradi in a statement.
Another large chain, AMC Entertainment Holdings with 542 theaters, said Thursday that it is going to offer a financing round that could raise $500 million.
When it had to close last month, AMC CEO Adam Aron said public safety is paramount.
“We are ever so disappointed for our moviegoing guests and for our employee teams,” he said in a statement at the time. “Still, the health and well-being of AMC guests and employees, and of all Americans, takes precedence above all else.”
The shutdown has been particularly rough on smaller chains like Alamo Drafthouse, Landmark Theatres, Showcase Cinemas and Bow Tie Cinemas. All have closed.
“When we re-open after this unprecedented and indefinite hiatus, it will be in a dramatically altered world, and in an industry that’s been shaken to its core,” Alamo, based in Austin, Texas, said on its website as its screens went dark last month.