Only a month after beginning to reopen where allowed, struggling U.S. movie theaters are retreating and reducing their hours of operation as Hollywood studios continue to delay tentpoles including Wonder Woman 1984 and Black Widow because of the ongoing pandemic.
That means the next big event pic isn’t until Nov. 20, when both James Bond installment No Time to Die and Pixar’s Soul are scheduled to unfurl over the Thanksgiving corridor. Hopes are high that both films will restart the box office recovery.
Many circuits, including AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark — the country’s three largest chains — are beginning to limit the number of showtimes, as are scores of other chains and independent houses in order to reduce costs, sources say.
Some, including Cinemark and Marcus Theatres, are going further and closing a small number of their cinemas on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. About 15 or so Marcus theaters and a dozen or so Cinemark sites in smaller or relatively quiet markets have been impacted. Whether other companies follow suit remains to be seen.
In a comment to The Hollywood Reporter, a Cinemark spokesman said that approximately 75 percent of the circuit is open.
“Cinemark’s reopening plan was thoughtfully and strategically designed with multiple contingencies in place to ensure we are able to be nimble and react as needed to the ever-changing environment,” the circuit said in the statement. “That said, we will evaluate opportunities to align with demand, including reducing operating hours while we await new studio content to encourage theatrical moviegoing.”
The lack of Hollywood studio product poses a serious dilemma for cinemas, which have spent millions on new safety and social distancing protocols in the campaign to lure consumers back to to theaters in the COVID-19 era, including reduced capacity.
“It’s going to be a horrible October,” says one studio distributor.
Theaters reopened where they were allowed in time for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which unfurled over Labor Day weekend. However, without New York and Los Angeles in play, the $200 million tentpole has struggled, grossing $41 million domestically through Sept. 27. Exhibitors had hoped that Tenet would be followed by Mulan, but that tentpole was sent straight to Disney+ at a premium price in the U.S. over the Labor Day frame.
Wonder Woman 1984 had been set to open Oct. 2, but Warners pushed the sequel to Dec. 25 days after Tenet debuted. That was followed by Disney moving Black Widow from Nov. 6 of this year to May 2021. The impact of the shifts was immediate.
According to Comscore, there were 3,453 out of roughly 6,o00 North American theaters back in operation over the weekend of Sept. 18-20, as more jurisdictions allowed moviegoing. As of now, that number has been reduced to 3,350.
New indie studio Solstice Studios, founded by Mark Gill, provided the first new wide release when opening the Russell Crowe road-rage thriller Unhinged on Aug. 21.The film has earned $17.1 million to date domestically.
On Sunday, Solstice warned in a box office note that October would be challenged because of reduced showtimes and closures. The indie studio said it will make every effort to run promotions and help incentivize cinemas to stay open.
Some in the film industry are optimistic that cinemas in Los Angeles may be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks. Ditto for New York City. The two cities are the biggest moviegoing markets in the country.