Major Theater Chains Are Suing the State of New Jersey

Published on July 7, 2020

Movie theaters have been in bad shape for months. Ever since lockdown, there’s been talk of closures and bankruptcy for some of the biggest theater chains, including AMC Theaters. Now, AMC Theaters along with other major theater chains are filing suit against the state of New Jersey.

The Current State of New Jersey

New Jersey has allowed churches, malls, and museums to reopen despite the crowds involved, but theater chains remained closed in the state. Right now, the state is in phase two of reopening. Theater chains are a part of phase three, which includes gyms, amusement parks, and other major attractions that bring in crowds. 

Theaters vs. Governor Phil Murphy

AMC, Cinemark Theaters, and Regal Theaters are suing Governor Phil Murphy. The theaters are arguing under the first amendment they have the right to reopen. The theaters are repped by the National Theaters Association, which hasn’t handled the events of the last few months particularly well. The association raged against studios releasing their movies on streaming, despite COVID-19 keeping people home. AMC even went as far to bluff they wouldn’t show Universal’s movies in their theaters, which is a threat they have already walked back on.

The Lawsuit

Under the state’s restrictions, which limits gatherings to 100 people or 25% capacity, theaters believe they should be a part of phase two. They fall under the same restrictions, theater owners are arguing. Here’s an excerpt from the lawsuit: 

“Plaintiffs bring this action to ensure that movie theatres are treated equally with other similarly situated places of public assembly, and in order to exercise their First Amendment rights to exhibit films of significant artistic, cultural, political and popular merit…. There is no rational basis for Defendants’ distinction between, for example, places of worship and movie theatres for purposes of reopening, yet Defendants have allowed places of worship to reopen while movie theatres must remain closed, with no scheduled date for reopening.”

When Can Reopening Happen?

The state of New Jersey hasn’t said yet when theaters can safely reopen. Some states have already given the greenlight to theaters, even though they have no new releases to show. Theater owners have already spoken with state officials about their protocols, but they didn’t budge on keeping theaters in phase three. Right now, there’s no clue when phase three can happen as the number of cases of COVID-19 keeps rising. According to Governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey uses “multistage approach uses science, data and facts to determine which businesses and activities can reopen according to their risk level and challenges they face to safeguard public health.”

What Theaters Are Hoping For

AMC Theaters is planning to reopen at the end of July. They’ve faced setbacks, meaning the virus isn’t slowing down and states keep delaying reopening dates. Recently, California’s governor Gavin Newsom delayed the reopening of movie theaters by three weeks. Without California and New York City, major studios do not want to release their movies in theaters. They’ll lose over 20% of their audience. 

AMC and other major theater chains have already released their safety protocols. Some theaters were foolish enough to say masks aren’t mandatory. After a theater chain faced backlash for that decision, though, they listened to reason and said masks would be mandatory.

There are only a handful of major movies still scheduled to come out this summer. The biggest movie, of course, is Tenet. Christopher Nolan wants his epic to reopen theaters and bring audiences back, but Warner Bros. keeps delaying that film, just like they’ve delayed Wonder Woman 1984 twice already. If theaters do actually reopen at the end of July, we’ll see if people actually show up. Polls have shown people aren’t excited to watch a movie with a big crowd these days. Can’t blame them.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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