Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that New York City movie theaters will be given permission to open as early as March 5, just in time for Raya and the Last Dragon. Capacity will be at 25% or 50 audience members, whichever is lower. It was allegedly Cuomo’s insistence, for better or worse, in keeping New York theaters closed last Fall that led to most of the scheduled year-end releases (Black Widow, No Time to Die, Top Gun: Maverick) fleeing into 2021.
In the aftermath, theaters which had opened in late summer with the presumption that Unhinged and Tenet would usher a wave of newbies were left with months of (at best) small-scale studio programmers like The War with Grandpa and Freaky helping to keep the lights on. If California follows suit, then it could be something approximating the beginning of the end of the Covid-specific theatrical crisis.
While 25% capacity isn’t necessarily enough to get No Time to Die racing back to its April 2 launch date, it may allow smaller films like Universal’s Nobody (now slated for April 2) to earn something comparable to what they would have in ideal circumstances. Simply put, theatrical moviegoing is a peak-hours activity.
It’s no secret that, once upon a time, I would buy a ticket to a given tentpole on opening day at an IMAX theater just to watch the trailers (since they play different on a giant movie screen than on a laptop). I can tell you any number of times where I waltzed into an afternoon IMAX showing on the opening day of a given super-duper blockbuster only to find the theater mostly empty.
Avengers: Age of Ultron may have earned $84 million on its opening day, but that didn’t come from the 12:30 pm IMAX showing in Regal Simi Valley. Likewise, the first clue that Jurassic World was going to challenge The Avengers’ opening weekend record was walking into an afternoon IMAX showing at the same theater a month later to a comparatively more crowded audience. Heck, since this whole movie critic/box office pundit thing became an obsessive hobby (around 13 years ago) and then a job (around eight years ago), I’ve seen the majority of my theatrical movies either at packed press screenings or mostly-empty matinees.
Likewise, if I walked into a Tuesday afternoon showing of Yesterday and discovered the Studio Movie Grill auditorium was nearly sold out, well, that was a good sign that the film was going to leg out. I’d argue that the vast majority of theatrical movies could pull the majority of their expected theatrical business with limited capacity.
That’s partially why Solstice Studios was first out of the gate with Unhinged in August of 2020, since that sort of old-school, star+concept-driven studio programmer wasn’t banking on packed houses. Now that doesn’t mean that big movies don’t somewhat require the ability to pack theaters over opening weekend (and/or the first 17 days in more vibrant markets) to justify a theatrical release. However, you could theoretically see Black Widow on the first Wednesday of release early in the morning or late at night while still practicing social distancing.
Speaking of which, I can only speculate as to whether this news will mean that the likes of Disney’s Black Widow, Lionsgate’s Spiral and Universal’s F9 will open as scheduled in May. The Warner Bros. movies already on tap (Tom & Jerry, Godzilla Vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat) won’t be affected as they were set in stone due to the HBO Max deal. Likewise, I’m not expecting Sony and Paramount’s already-delayed films (Cinderella, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Morbius, A Quiet Place part II, etc.) to move up to capitalize on re-openings.
However, this means more folks who want to see Godzilla and Kong throw down on an IMAX or PLF screen may be able to do so. Moreover, this also means that the aforementioned May biggies along with June/July releases like Venom: Let There Be Carnage or Top Gun: Maverick might actually stick around. There are many variables, but this is the clearest sign yet that the 2021 summer movie season might just happen, and that Bloodshot might not be the last movie you see in a theater.
The official statement from Patrick Corcoran, Vice President & Chief Communications Officer for the National Association Of Theater Owners:
“Theater owners are pleased with the announcement that New York City movie theaters will be allowed to safely re-open. Stringent voluntary health and safety protocols have made it possible for cinemas across the country to operate safely and responsibly at higher capacity limits for many months without a single outbreak of COVID-19 being traced to movie theaters. New York City is a major market for moviegoing in the U.S.; re-opening there gives confidence to film distributors in setting and holding their theatrical release dates, and is an important step in the recovery of the entire industry. We look forward to expanding the capacity from 25% to 50% in the very near future so that theatres can operate profitably.”
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