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Hollywood studio executives aren’t alone in celebrating the reopening of movie theaters in New York City this weekend after nearly a year of being closed due to the pandemic.
Actor Liam Neeson, who has received his first vaccination shot, will personally thank moviegoers for turning out before his latest action pic plays Friday evening at a prominent Upper Westside multiplex.
“This is one for the diary,” Neeson told The Hollywood Reporter during an interview this week. “It will be nice to welcome people. I think going to the cinema is a bit of a sacred experience. I’ve felt that way since I was a kid.”
New York City isn’t only the second-biggest moviegoing market in the country behind Los Angeles — where cinemas remain shuttered — it is key in terms of generating buzz and publicity for Hollywood titles, and for the box office overall as it attempts to recover.
“The reopening of New York is a strong symbolic gesture to the theater-going audience that it is okay to put your toe in the water,” says Tom Ortenberg, chief of Open Road/Briarcliff, which is distributing The Marksman in the U.S.
On Thursday, a new poll from the National Research Group showed moviegoer confidence growing to his highest level since Tenet opened in late summer. With President Biden’s announcement earlier this week that every adult can be vaccinated by the end of May, the NRG survey showed consumers feeling far more optimistic about returning to cinemas in the next few months.
Cinemas in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area have also been given the okay to reopen, while Los Angeles could follow in the next several weeks.
Without Los Angeles and New York City in play, Hollywood studios have delayed their tentpoles. Now, there’s hope that there could actually be a summer season at the box office.
In New York City, capacity is limited to 25 percent, or no more than 50 people per auditorium. While that makes it difficult for cinemas to make a profit, it’s a start.
AMC is opening all 13 of its New York City locations, while arthouse icons such as the IFC Center and the Angelica are also opening Friday. Regal, which is owned by Cineworld, is targeting an April reopening.
According to Comscore, there are a total of 62 movie theaters in New York City.
“The consumer appetite is there,” says Joe Masher, who runs the greater New York chapter of the National Association of Theater Owners. He’s also chief of Bowtie Cinemas, which has locations in upper New York Sate, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia.
“New York City theaters reopening will provide the studios impetus to release their bigger movies,” says Masher.
Early Thursday, however, Universal announced it is pushing back the release of Fast & Furious installment F9 from late May to late June out of an abundance of caution. “I am bummed out, but understand their decision,” Masher says. “At least they didn’t move it into oblivion.”
But Paramount followed that news by pushing up the release of A Quiet Place Part II to Memorial Day weekend. “They say good things come to those who wait. Well… I think we’ve waited long enough,” said John Krasinki, who wrote and directed the film.
On Friday, Masher will accompany Andrew Yang, a Democrat running for New York City mayor, to see a movie at AMC Empire 25 in Times Square, the busiest cinema in the city.
As for his remarks, Neeson is likely to talk about a story dear to his heart. The famed acting duo Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson — the grandparents of his late wife, Natasha Richardson — starred in plays in the West End of London during the WWII blitz.
“People didn’t panic,” says Neeson. “Sometimes, the plays would stop and Sir Michael would go down to the orchestra pit and start playing the piano and do singalongs. Vanessa Redgrave, who was my wife’s mum, would tell us that story over the years and I’d think, ‘wow, that’s extraordinary.'”
“There is a tiny parallel to what’s happening now,” says Neeson. “We are being bombarded by these microscopic invisible bombs.”
March 4, 6:34 p.m. A previous version of this story stated Andrew Yang was running for New York City governor but has been corrected to reflect that he is running for mayor.
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