What does the box office have in store in COVID time?
Many cinemas in the U.S. “officially” reopened August 21, including the mega location chains Regal, Cinemark and AMC. Independents join their Top 3 exhibition leaders in opening (or re-opening) their doors. Ironically, the building buzz centers around a Labor Day opening, which in normal years signify the start of school and sports seasons, meaning cinemas usually don’t reignite until the Thanksgiving/Christmas period.
But Coronavirus has everything flip-flopped. Although “Tenet” was to be an early summer tentpole, the tenacious virus has induced Warner Bros. to push it backward. Now, set for Sept. 3, the studio announced August 19 that it would have advance showings on Aug. 28, 29, 30… at cinemas that are open. One release indicated that drive ins would screen the big star, big budget thriller even though it comes out in the Labor Day time frame when many outdoor screens wrap for the year due to increasing nights of bad weather and weekend competition with high school sports.
Despite the lack of even one transmission and /or fatality at an indoor cinema WORLDWIDE, watching films on the big screen have been shunned. First, by states closing them as potential mass virus spreaders (like bars) and, then, by paranoid studios refusing to risk opening a big budget summer standard fearing it will not draw the anticipated number of viewers to make super heroic profits.
Though, the big chains announced early, they would stay shuttered until Hollywood got its release schedule back to normal, some independent and mini-major chains have struggled to keep door open and screens bright accompanied by stepped up safety measures. Those measures include vacant seats next to a group and alternative vacant rows as you climb the stadium stairs. Most require masks when patrons are not eating or drinking.
As the Big Three national chains relight, they will remain dark in New York City and Los Angeles. Since runs in the big cities generate interest and favorable buzz, studios have either pushed back product or dipped into home PPV, which violates a long standing time window.
The virus has eased, except for an occasional spike, over the ponds so films will premiere outside of the United States, then gear up for Sept. 3.
Other nations have swarmed the box office, but in the U.S. where the virus still sees increasing death tolls attendance has not been booming, even with capacity caps ranging from 30 to 50% of normal.
Cinemas that did open after they were given permission have not been awash with moviegoers.
“We have to be very selective at this time with the titles because terms are so high and with limited attendance we are actually showing a negative with some films, said Robin Shumate, marketing director for Marquee Cinemas, which operates screens mostly along the country’s eastern corridor, including six in West Virginia and two in Virginia.
Marquee’s choices have equaled or varied only slightly to the mixture of past summer blockbusters (“Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the Harry Potter series, and “Ghostbusters”) along with an assortment of features (“Invisible Man,” “Bloodshot, “Sonic the Hedgehog, “Trolls World Tour”) that played when the shut down orders mounted.
Of the Spielberg and other blockbuster re-releases, here’s how they came in playing a limited number of cinemas and drive ins: 1. Jurassic Park ($1.2 million); 2. Empire Strikes Back (apx 800,000); 3. Jaws ( $758,000); 4. Ghostbusters ($600,000); 5. The Goonies ($565,000). The IFC Midnight horror films (Wretched, Rental, Becky, Relic, etc. collected around $1 million dollars each). *The domestic rerelease grosses for Harry Potter were not included on the chart.
The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) initiated a “Save Your Cinema” campaign asking for federal subsidies to offset the fixed costs (like rent and utilities) during closure. Thousands of moviegoers signed petitions to their Congressional reps in support of enjoying big screen entertainment.
Shumate said, “Nothing we’ve showed to this point during the pandemic has done very well. The film companies are being tight lipped on the success of PPV releases, however we have heard that it wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either.”
” Film companies have to realize that this is a unique situation and once things get back to the new normal, PPV may not be their answer. I believe they are hurting as bad as the theatres are and are looking for a way to make at least some revenue. People have been very receptive to theatres opening in other countries and hopefully they will be here too. Film companies held off on releasing films wanting to wait until things calmed down to get the biggest bang for their buck, however the thought process is changing and now the film companies think (and we do too) that people are eager to get back to the movies for entertainment after being shut in for so long,” Shumate , a member of Marquee’s Board of Director’s explained.
What’s coming (subject to change… I mean what if , for instance, college football, the NFL and return to schools and universities sets off an even greater upsurge than in March and mid-summer?)
AUGUST 28: The New Mutants; Personal History of David Copperfield
SEPT 3: Tenet; The Owners
SEPT 11: Malibu Road
SEPT 18: The King’s Men; No Escape; Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs; Kajillionaire
SEPT 25: Greenland
OCT 2: Wonder Woman 1984, After We Collided, A Call to Spy
OCT 16: Candyman
OCT 23: Death on the Nile
NOV 6: Black Widow
NOV 20: No Time to Die
DEC 18: Dune, West Side Story, Coming 2 America
DEC 23: Croods A New Age
DEC 25: News of the World
JAN 1: Escape Room 2