By R.T. Watson
A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, Hollywood studios and movie
theaters hope a recovery is on the way.
Some theaters in two of America's biggest box-office markets,
New York City and San Francisco, will be open this weekend after
being closed for the better part of the past year. As cities slowly
reopen public spaces and more Americans receive vaccines for
Covid-19, moviegoing is poised for a comeback, though there is a
long way to go before all the nation's screens are flickering
Theater owners are gearing up. Some Hollywood executives are
advancing film releases that had been delayed. And for films
scheduled to open in theaters in coming weeks, customer interest in
returning, plus box-office results in New York City and San
Francisco, will begin to test the wisdom of studios' unprecedented
decisions in the past year -- namely to premiere films
simultaneously in theaters and on digital streaming services.
Movie theaters elsewhere in the U.S. have been open for months,
including in Florida, Texas, and Ohio, but box-office results have
been grim. The largest top few movie-theater markets in the U.S.
make up a large percentage of box-office revenues when a film comes
"Adrenaline is definitely pumping and definitely excited about
reopening, " said Scott Rosemann, who manages New York City's
Angelika Film Center in the trendy SoHo area, as well as two other
city theaters. "With the fact that we should have all adults in the
U.S. vaccinated by the end of May, it gives me great hope that we
will have a summer blockbuster season."
President Biden said earlier this week he expects the U.S. to
have sufficient vaccine supplies for all American adults by the end
Still, theaters owners can't pack auditoriums, and many major
theater markets remain closed, including in Hollywood studios' home
base of Los Angeles.
Cineworld Group PLC's Regal Entertainment Group, though
encouraged by reopenings, said it will hold off resuming operations
at its more than 500 U.S. theaters until its leadership is
convinced big-budget movies are sure to follow. "Once Los Angeles
follows suit, we are confident in the studios holding their release
dates for new movies, allowing us to reopen our theatres," the
Both New York City and San Francisco are requiring theaters to
cap attendance at 25%, and cinemas will mandate that moviegoers
wear masks. And it remains unknown whether a much-anticipated
pent-up demand for popcorn and big screens will manifest, after
more than 500,000 U.S. deaths from Covid-19 and lingering public
fear about gathering in indoor spaces.
Hollywood's biggest studio, Disney, has some confidence. On
Friday, the studio is debuting "Raya and the Last Dragon" in more
than 2,000 North American theaters. It has been one year since
Disney opened a new movie in domestic theaters.
Disney is simultaneously making the movie available to
subscribers of its streaming service Disney+ for an additional $30,
which means some people are likely to watch the animated family
film at home.
The last film Disney released exclusively to North American
theaters was Pixar's "Onward." It hit more than 4,000 theaters on
Mar. 6, 2020 but sputtered at the box office amid the worsening
pandemic and theater closures.
John Krasinski, director of Paramount Pictures'
highly-anticipated sequel "A Quiet Place Part II" announced on
Twitter late Thursday that his film's release has moved up to
Memorial Day weekend in May from its previously scheduled premiere
Sony Pictures Entertainment is also waxing optimistic about May.
This week the studio said it would release "Peter Rabbit 2: The
Runaway" in May rather than June. The studio chose to debut the
movie in theaters sooner because of recent signs of recovery and
encouraging demand for family films, according to a person familiar
with the matter.
Family films have performed better than others in recent weeks.
Universal Pictures' animated sequel "The Croods: A New Age" had
grossed $52.4 million through last weekend, according to Comscore,
after a relatively strong 14-week run in theaters. Last weekend,
another family title, Warner Bros.' "Tom & Jerry," took the top
spot domestically after generating $13.7 million in ticket revenue,
Comscore also said.
Like all of the studio's 2021 releases, "Tom & Jerry" could
also be viewed on streaming service HBO Max, which, like Warner
Bros., is a unit run by AT&T Inc.'s WarnerMedia.
During the pandemic, Hollywood studios either focused on their
streaming services, delayed releasing their most-coveted projects,
or sold films to competitors for online distribution. As a result,
the nation's largest theater chains, which also include AMC
Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cinemark Holdings Inc., saw their
chances to generate revenue dwindle. AMC managed to fend off
bankruptcy several times during the past year.
As selected cities and states have loosened restrictions amid
the pandemic's fluctuations, AMC and Cinemark reopened some
theaters at reduced capacity. They also implemented
social-distancing measures and heightened hygiene protocols.
Many theater owners expect Hollywood studios to begin releasing
high-profile films again only after moviegoers demonstrate they are
comfortable returning to multiplexes and the rest of California,
principally Los Angeles, also reopens.
Franchise films like MGM Holdings Inc.'s latest installment of
the James Bond franchise "No Time to Die" and Disney's Marvel
spinoff "Black Widow" typically drive the majority of ticket sales.
The two films, among many other big-budget titles, have been
delayed repeatedly during the pandemic. Currently, "Black Widow" is
slated for early May in the U.S. and Canada, while "No Time To Die"
is scheduled for Oct. 8.
In an effort to return life to normal, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
took a more aggressive approach than many other states and
companies when he lifted pandemic-related restrictions on
businesses in Texas and cancelled the state's mask mandate.
The move brings a host of complications for businesses including
movie-theater chains. Tim League, founder and executive chairman of
Austin-based chain Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas Holdings LLC, joined a
chorus of companies saying they would continue to follow
public-health recommendations and maintain Covid-19 protective
protocols. The chain also this week announced it had to permanently
close two Texas locations as part of a chapter 11 bankruptcy
"If you relax mask mandates now, what about the people there in
the venue, that work there every day? They're at risk," Mr. League
While Mr. League says he ranks this week's news as some of the
best he's heard in months, his Alamo theaters in New York City and
San Francisco will remain closed this weekend, because the dine-in
experience the chain offers demands added preparation before
"There are a lot of signs of encouragement and I'm confident
that later on this year that we're going to return to some level of
normalcy," he said. "But it all depends on peoples' comfort level
of getting out of the home."
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 05, 2021 11:03 ET (16:03 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.