When Movie Audiences Return, Will Theaters Still Be There in the Suburbs?

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 8, 2020 | Go to article overview

When Movie Audiences Return, Will Theaters Still Be There in the Suburbs?


Byline: dann Gire

The question that haunts me most about our endangered local movie theaters is this: What if by the time audiences finally return, there aren't any theaters to return to?

America's movie theaters, already hanging on by their financial fingernails during the COVID-19 pandemic, face an even bleaker future now that 2020's last surefire blockbuster, 007's "No Time to Die," has abandoned its November release date and fled to 2021.

It joins Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story," Denis Villeneuve's "Dune," Cate Shortland's "Black Widow" and other eagerly anticipated films seeking economic asylum in 2021 to dodge the virus that has crippled America's theater industry.

Monday gave us a bleak peek at this possible future when Regal Cinemas -- the nation's second-largest theater chain after AMC -- announced the closing of its 536 cinemas in the U.S., including theaters in Lake Zurich, Lincolnshire, Warrenville, Round Lake Beach, Crystal Lake and Glenview.

Chris Johnson summed up the situation in three words: "It's been horrible!"

Johnson, CEO of the Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas, said exhibitors need two things to stay solvent until the virus subsides or someone creates a vaccine: partners and support.

That, plus a few blockbusters to shore up the finances.

Classic Cinemas' Illinois locations, including those in Carpentersville, St. Charles, Elk Grove Village, Elmhurst, Downers Grove and Fox Lake, reopened in June but closed again July 9 "because we didn't have any compelling tentpole movies on the schedule," he said. "If we can't get a consistent supply of attractive movies, we won't be able to maintain our businesses."

But that will not be easy. Especially because Johnson and other exhibitors are trapped in a dire, Catch-22 scenario.

To lure audiences back into theaters, exhibitors need spectacular blockbusters such as "No Time to Die."

For theaters to get those spectacular blockbusters, the studios need big, BIG audiences so they can recoup their spectacular budgets. ("Tenet" reportedly cost $205 million. "No Time to Die" reportedly cost $250 million -- and the move to 2021 cost up to $50 million in wasted promotions and advertising.)

That brings us to the huge New York movie market, which remains closed.

"As long as New York is closed, the studios won't release their blockbusters," Johnson said. "That affects all of us."

With little relief in sight, the National Association of Theatre Owners sized up the situation in this written statement: "If the status quo continues, 69% of small and mid-size movie theater companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy or to close permanently. …

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