NEW YORK – 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.
Only recently have state guidelines allowed the reopening of theaters in California (including in the country’s top market, Los Angeles, where local officials have yet to agree). In New York City, open cinemas come in phase four of its reopening schedule; it began phase one only on Monday. Aron granted New York theaters, which constitute the second largest market, may not open in time for “Tenet.”
Theaters have slowly been reopening in other areas of the country, while a renaissance of drive-ins has flourished. Cinemark, which operates about 6,000 U.S. screens has said it will begin reopening in late June and fully reopen by July 10. Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas, the world’s second-largest chain, is also tracking for a July reopening.
But AMC’s announcement Tuesday signaled the most ambitious and widespread plan for a resumption of business.