The State of the Movie Industry During COVID-19

The movie industry in the United States is losing quite a bit of money, and efforts to reopen have not been very successful.

By Eric Porco

Staff Writer

(AMC 14 Columbia, MD. Image courtesy of amctheaters.com)

Movie theaters across the country and in Howard County started opening last August to very diminishing returns. Cineworld Group, owner of Regal Cinemas, very recently stated that they would be shutting down operations at all theaters in the US starting on October 8th. Estimated that theaters will lose upwards of $31 billion dollars this year, this is a very difficult time for the movie and theater industry in general. 

Way back in March, when COVID-19 originally became a significant concern in the United States and other parts of the world, movie and TV production around the globe shut down. Around this same time period, too, movie theaters began shutting down, and companies in charge of major releases became worried about sales during the pandemic. Due to such circumstances, the availability of new releases to show at theaters is at an all time low. 

To mitigate losses, theaters started showing older movies for lower prices in the hopes of some small profit. One Hammond senior, Phaedra McNiell, commented “I think there’s a lot of duality in the situation. I like being able to go to the movies for cheaper because pre-quarantine tickets and condiments were pretty expensive. However I feel bad for the owners because I imagine they’re losing a lot of money.” In fact, that’s likely not the worst of it. Many theaters may follow Regal’s example and close down for a second time, as the low amount of new releases means that many theaters won’t be able to afford staying open. 

Theaters having few new releases, which often is the main factor contributing to business, means a large part of the revenue generation is gone. This combined with the fact that when theaters are open, owners pay full rent and operating expenses, and the impact of COVID-19 on customer anxiety, paints a grim picture for the future of smaller theaters across the country and in the county.

Before Regal recently closed however, AMC and Regal were both open, operating under Coronavirus safety regulations for businesses. Both AMC and Regal require face masks to be worn by both employees and customers during the entire stay at the theater, AMC even simplifying menus to lower time at concession stands, and both generally enforcing social distancing standards in the lobby. In addition, theater maximum capacity was reduced by 50% by Regal and 60% by AMC, and both companies began providing hand sanitizer. 

Despite safety precautions, going to the movies still may not be recommended, however, as doctors generally still warn against it. The virus can be transmitted through the air, from droplets generated in our mouths that move around through laughing, breathing, speaking, coughing or sneezing. A Hammond High School alumni, Joseph Cohen commented “I don’t care how safe they try to make it, I’m not sitting in a theater with multiple people during a pandemic.” There may indeed be a good case to be made that sitting in a closed room with inefficiently circulated air where people who may not be wearing their masks as intended are breathing and possibly laughing for multiple hours is not a very good idea.

Despite all of the health concerns, safety regulations, and theater economy, some new movies are still being released. Tenet, for example, opted for a full theatrical release despite concerns. With many US theaters still being closed, Tenet was not expected to perform very well at the box office. This Christopher Nolan movie still tried, however, garnering what was estimated to be $9.5 million dollars on opening weekend. $9.5 million dollars sure does sound like a lot of money, but when compared to another older Nolan film, Interstellar, which had a $47.5 million dollar opening weekend box office, the difference can surely be seen. 

Other movie studios, such as the ones behind Wonder Woman 1984, and Black Widow following Tenet’s generally disappointing release, decided to delay to later release dates. Disney, however, for their movie Mulan, decided to take advantage of their new streaming platform, Disney Plus, to release their movie to an estimated $93 million dollars equivalent in box office money, almost certainly blowing Tenet out of the water, and opening questions about the near future of movie releases and the video on-demand option. 

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