Friday marks a major turning point in the current state of the film industry, with AMC, Regal, and Cinemark theaters–collectively the three largest cinema chains in North America–all opening their doors to patrons. Smaller chains such as Marcus and Alamo Drafthouse are also ramping up their operations, bringing a much needed return to normalcy for an eager yet highly cautious crowd.
AMC Theatres, the world’s largest movie theater circuit, began their reopening push on Thursday, dimming the house lights and firing up the projectors at more than 100 US locations. Alamo Drafthouse got an even bigger head start, offering their die-hard fans a free screening of “Bill & Ted Face the Music” at select locations on Wednesday.
“We are incredibly excited to welcome everyone back to Alamo Drafthouse,” CEO Shelli Taylor said in a statement. “‘Tenet,’ ‘The New Mutants’ and ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’ are made for the big screen experience. We’ve all dearly missed going to the movies, and with our many enhanced safety protocols we feel that we can come together again confidently and securely.”
As of this weekend, roughly 1,400 of the 6,000 venues in North America will be open, according to Comscore. The issue of whether or not patrons will eagerly return to movie theaters in the midst of the pandemic remains a lingering concern for myriad reasons.
“The reopening of movie theaters this weekend is definitely a bittersweet moment for the film industry,” Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said. “On one hand, it’s a relief to see cinemas open their doors again, but at the same time many of these theaters are opening in states and cities that still don’t have a handle on the spread of this virus. So, as nice as it is to see new content in theaters, many people simply won’t take the risk, and the ones that do could easily be exposed to the virus.”
Despite those concerns, early reports indicate that nationwide demand for going to the theater is booming. According to AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. CEO Adam Aron, many theaters were “sold out” in various parts of the country. “Welcome, America, back to the movies,” Aron celebrated. “We’re only selling 30 percent of our seats, and so we are sold out today almost all across the country.”
“We’ve been waiting for this for five months, and we’ve spent so much time and effort to make sure that we get opened safely, cleanly, responsibly,” Aron also said in a statement.
Bock was a bit more restrained and cautious. “I suspect we’ll see a surge of activity opening weekend and if all goes without incident, a very slow return to normal. Like months, not weeks,” he said. “Of course, if multiple, traceable outbreaks occur, we’ll definitely be looking at [premium video on demand] for the foreseeable future until we wrangle this virus.”