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Even as Hollywood studios pull back major tentpoles from release amid a coronavirus pandemic, many theater chains haven’t made the decision to temporarily shutter stateside.
But Friday, the circuits took action. AMC Theatres, the largest chain stateside, as well as Regal Cinemas and Cineplex, the Canadian exhibition giant, all said that they are cutting seating capacity by half in all locations in the U.S. and Canada. Cinemark is also reducing capacity in California, and is likely to follow suit in other locales, akin to AMC and Regal, according to insiders.
“AMC is proactively taking action to cut in half the number of tickets that we will make available at all our U.S. theaters,” said CEO Adam Aron. “With this action, we are facilitating the ‘social distance’ between guests who still want to see movies on a big screen.”
AMC, which operates 11,000 screens in the U.S., also said that it will put in place “enhanced” cleaning procedures on “hightouch point areas, including kiosks, counter tops, restroom areas, glass, handrails and doorknobs.” The new protocols will begin March 14 and will remain in place until April 30.
Cineplex, which runs 1,693 theatre auditoriums in Canada, said it is hoping that “with reduced capacity auditoriums, we are providing our guests with the choice to sit where they feel most comfortable.” And Regal Cinemas, which runs 543 locations, said, “we have reduced auditorium capacity by 50% and are complying, where applicable, with state mandates on social gathering limits.”
Speciality chain Alamo Drafthouse, which runs more than 20 locations in the U.S., said Friday that its new protocols include installing “‘buffer” seats on either side of customers’ seats that will be “unavailable for other guests to purchase.”
ArcLight Cinemas, which has 11 theater locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Diego and Boston, will also put in place “social distancing” policies. “We will be selling seats in every other row and ask that guests choose seats with adequate space between other parties,” stated ArcLight president and COO Ted Mundorff. “Our ticketing system has been updated accordingly and the closed rows will show as blocked/not available for sale.”
A slew of high-profile films that were set to be released in the next months have been pulled or delayed, including Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II, The Lovebirds and Blue Story (all undated), Universal’s F9 (moved to April 2021), Disney’s Mulan, Antlers and New Mutants (all undated) as well as MGM’s No Time to Die (moved from April to November). The dearth of new film product presents a huge challenge for theaters, with many now predicting that some cinemas will close for the short term.
The global box office is already looking at a hit of at least $7 billion this year. If the rest of March, April, and May are included, lost revenue would climb another $10 billion, making a total loss of approximately $17 billion. This does not include productions that have been shut down. (Disney’s film division has suspended all production on its features, including The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan & Wendy and Shrunk.)
Some 70,000 theater screens in China, the world’s second biggest moviegoing market, remain closed after more than a month as the country grapples with 80,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. Italy — which has more than 15,000 confirmed virus cases — followed suit earlier this week and multiple chains across Europe shut down on March 13.
In Hollywood, speciality theater organization American Cinematheque, which runs the Egyptian Theatre (which seats 616) and Aero Theatre (which seats 427), said it is suspending all screenings and public events until further notice. The TCM Classic Film Fest, which was to be held at venues including the TCL Chinese Theatre Imax (which seats 932), was canceled earlier this week.
During a Friday presser, President Trump declared a national emergency in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Currently there are 136,860 confirmed cases of coronavirus globally, with 1,286 cases in the U.S., per Johns Hopkins University’s case tracker. AMC chief Aron added, “These are uncharted times in the United States. We are very closely monitoring the guidance of the CDC.”
March 13, 6:30 pm PST Updated with additional information from ArcLight Cinemas.
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Jon M. Chu