The National Association of Theater Owners Are Hopeful for the Future of Movie Theaters

Published on March 17, 2020

The National Association of Theater Owners is in a terribly rough spot at the moment. Theaters have closed down all over the country, including its biggest chains, Regal Cinemas and AMC. Federal and local governments are canceling large gatherings, due to the coronavirus. Theaters tried to brave the storm in a variety of ways, but in the end, had to do what’s best and keep people out of theaters. Now, the National Association of Theater Owners are responding to all the chaos happening inside and outside their movie theaters.

The State of Theaters

Most major theater chain owners and head honchos know things will eventually calm down and normalize. Unfortunately, in such uncertain times, nobody knows when exactly. Local and family-owned theaters, in particular, are in serious trouble. They’re bleeding money, as are their employees. Even some of the bigger theater chains, such as Alamo Drafthouse and Landmark Theaters, won’t pay their employees during this pandemic. How will they get by in these brutal times? 150,000 people work for theaters across the country. There’s no easy answer. 

People Will Return to Movie Theaters

People will return to movie theaters, but from the look of it, maybe not until Fall. A handful of major summer releases are seeing delays, including the new Fast & Furious and Saw movies. Still, the National Association of Theater Owners is confident things will revert to normal. 

In a statement put out by the association, they expressed hope for the future: 

No one can precisely predict when public life will return to normal, but it will return. The social nature of human beings – the thing that exposes us to contagion, and that makes it so difficult to change behavior in response to pandemic threats – is also the thing that gives us confidence in the future. People will return to movie theaters because that is who people are.

In the uncertain, difficult economy ahead, movie theaters will fill the role they always have in boom times and in recessions – the most popular, affordable entertainment available outside the home. While movie theaters will suffer some financial harm in the near term, and many of their 150,000 employees will face personal hardship, when this crisis passes and people return to their hard-wired social nature, movie theaters will be there for them as they have always been, with a full slate of movies far into the future. 

As the virus takes hold in different regions at different times and in varying degrees of severity, people and public health officials are grappling with decisions about when to close public-facing businesses and when to restrict personal activity. As with other businesses that serve large groups of people, movie theaters have faced voluntary and mandated restrictions and closures. The majority of movie theaters have now closed. This industry will continue to meet its responsibilities to the public and will abide by public health mandates and adapt to local conditions.

Streaming Fear?

What the Association can’t be hopeful about, however, is titles going to streaming faster than ever given the current circumstances. Studios are making their most major releases available to rent, including Birds of Prey, The Invisible Man, and The Gentleman. Usually, studios must wait three months for home video or streaming, but they’re now cutting that window short. Many wondered if this will become the new norm. The National Association of Theater Owners added they’re not worried about the change in tides, though:

To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world. While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal. When those titles are rescheduled, they will make for an even fuller slate of offerings than normal as they are slotted into an already robust release schedule later in the year.

They’re right, of course. Certain costly movies could not afford to go to streaming. Mulan and Black Widow, for example, are too big of investments on Disney’s part to release on streaming. They need to come out and make that billion dollars in theaters across the globe. 

Theaters will be packed once the coronavirus finally leaves us in peace. People will miss and crave the moviegoing experience more than ever. Hopefully, not too many movie theaters close down before they can reopen.

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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