Movie theaters are slowly reopening a year after COVID-19 shutdowns

Theater owners faced limited capacities, financial restrictions and a lack of new releases during the pandemic

Movie theaters across the country are trying to make a comeback after facing shutdowns and strict guidelines during the pandemic. However, more than a year later, many are still closed. 

"Movie theater business has been probably the most visibly impacted business in all of entertainment," said Tom Nunan, visiting professor at UCLA School of Theater, Film And Television and one of the executive producers of the multiple-Oscar-winning Best Picture "Crash," via his production company, Bull’s Eye Entertainment. "We've seen some change and some distributors even declare bankruptcy and go out of business."

Movie theaters across the country are trying to make a comeback after facing shutdowns and strict guidelines during the pandemic. However, more than a year later, many are still closed. (Stephanie Bennett/ Fox News).

The industry was one of the hardest hit, dealing with limited indoor capacities, financial restrictions and a lack of new movie releases. When the pandemic hit, that meant all filming was forced to stop, causing a ripple effect as it’s now delaying new releases. In fact, a lot of moviemakers switched to premiering their films online instead of in theaters. 

"Many of these entertainment companies are simultaneously releasing these titles on their streaming platforms at the same time that they're opening in movie houses, and that's brand new," Nunan said. "Normally you'd have to wait at least three months between when a movie title is released in theaters, and when it appears on cable or streaming."

Many cinemas are still closed across the country. Landmark Theatres is hoping to open just over 20 theaters out of 50 by the end of the month.

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"There's a lot of factors going on in the movie business right now that are making it difficult to open all of our theaters, but we do have about 20 markets open right now, and things are starting to ramp up with distributors having product regularly coming out," said Margot Gerber, VP of marketing and publicity for Landmark Theatres. "As more moviegoers are coming back to theaters, we've been opening more theaters."

Big chains are also seeing the impacts. Cinemark operates 325 theaters in 42 states. Revenues for its first quarter fell to $114.4 million from $543.6 million the year before, but things are starting to look up.  

Cinemark operates 325 theaters in 42 states. Revenues for their first quarter fell to $114.4 million from $543.6 million the year before, but things are starting to look up. (Stephanie Bennett/ Fox News)

"Our expectations are 2021 will be a transitionary year and it will be much more normalized in terms of film content as well as movie-going behavior, our new sense of normalcy in 2022," said Chanda Brashears, Cinemark’s SVP of investor and public relations. "We were one of the hardest-hit industries without hesitation, but on the bright side Cinemark was one of the best positioned financially leading into the pandemic, and we took swift and immediate action to make sure we secured that financial positioning to endure throughout the pandemic."

Cinemark said it’ll continue to keep its guests safe by following CDC guidelines and adapting to different state protocols, including disinfecting all surfaces, socially distancing seats and enforcing mask mandates. 

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As vaccines roll out and restrictions are lifted, more theaters nationwide are slowly reopening. After being closed for more than a year, Tucson’s oldest movie theater finally opened its doors on May 7.

"I use the word ‘magic’ to describe what it feels like when you're in a movie theater and you're surrounded by strangers and the lights go down and you're anticipating that movie coming on screen, and you get that hush, and then the movie starts and then people start laughing or screaming or crying together," said Jeff Yanc, program director at The Loft Cinema. "That's something that you can't replicate at home no matter how great your home viewing system is, you can't replicate the magic of going to a movie theater."

The pandemic caused The Loft Cinema in Tucson, AZ to close on March 15, 2020, and they didn't reopen until May 7, 2021. They soon turned to other ideas to bring in sales. (Stephanie Bennett/ Fox News)

The pandemic caused The Loft Cinema to close on March 15, 2020, but they soon turned to other ideas to bring in sales.

"That’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic, it forced us to do a lot of creative thinking about how you can do other things besides the old business model of just showing a movie in a movie theater," Yanc said. "So these other ideas we came up with are the virtual streaming, the outdoor cinema and the private rentals, these are all things that we're going to keep for the time being as for the foreseeable future."

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For now, they will continue selling tickets at a reduced capacity, socially distancing seats and requiring masks, but are hoping to increase capacity in the future. The new outdoor cinema will continue its operation too. 

"A lot of people maybe during the pandemic sort of took it for granted that movie theaters had always been around for 100 years prior to that, so I think once they come back they’ll realize, ‘Oh, this is why I loved it,’ Yanc said. "Plus the popcorn, you can't beat that smell of the popcorn wafting through the theater when you walk into the lobby."