M+E Connections

AMC’s Decision to Keep U.S. Theaters Open is an ‘Encouraging Sign,’ Box Office Analyst Says

Only one day after Regal Cinemas parent company Cineworld said it was temporarily shutting all its U.S. theaters, rival AMC Entertainment announced much more upbeat news, saying Oct. 6 it is “currently planning for all of its theatres that are now open to remain open for business.”

AMC’s announcement was an “encouraging sign,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told MESA.

However, he conceded the decision by AMC, the largest theatrical exhibitor in the U.S., ahead of No. 2 Regal, could end up being short-lived. After all, it’s an “ever-changing, evolving situation” as “businesses are having to make really hard choices,” he said, adding: “Everything changes from almost day to day and certainly week to week.”

“Obviously, if you have big titles, like Tenet, in the theater, you’re more likely to draw a bigger audience… and that’s why it was so devastating when” the latest James Bond film’s release “was moved to next year,” he said. Dergarabedian was referring to MGM, Universal and film producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli announcing Oct. 2 that the release of No Time To Die, the 25th film in the James Bond series, is being further delayed – this time until April 2, 2021.

“Theater companies are doing everything they can do, given this unusual – to say the least – circumstance, to stay afloat,” while keeping their customers safe, Dergarabedian said.

One big challenge is having enough good new movies to show that people want to see and feel they need to see in a theater, on a big screen, he noted. Theaters are also “beholden to the local city laws or state protocols” that include theater “closures that are mandated,” he said, pointing out he hadn’t seen a film at a theater since Universal’s The Invisible Man that was released in February because theaters have been closed in Los Angeles County.

Only about 56% of all movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada are open now overall, he told MESA. Therefore, every theater that closes is “going to have a negative impact” on the market, he said, noting that’s why AMC’s announcement was such welcome news at this time.

Another positive has been that “drive-ins have been thriving, even in the face of streaming platforms the likes of which we’ve never had so many [of] before and so much content at home,” he said. That is a clear sign that “people want that big-screen, communal, moviegoing experience,” he added. But, in two huge U.S. movie markets – Los Angeles and New York – “you can’t really go out and see a movie in a theater right now unless you want to go to a drive-in,” he noted.

Unfortunately, moviegoers in New York City and Long Island have no actual drive-ins to go to anymore, although there have been several efforts in the region to duplicate that experience with “pop-up” drive-in movie nights at shopping centers, parks and other venues since the start of the pandemic.

Despite the challenges currently facing the theatrical movie industry, Dergarabedian predicted the theatrical industry will survive, saying “it’s weathered every storm that’s come its way and come out on the other side – and I think we’ll see that here.”

However, “what the movie theater experience looks like in a year or two years or even six months, we just don’t know – but things are definitely changing,” he said. “We need a crystal ball” to know what will happen if the situation we’re in now continues all the way until summer 2021 but, “right now, 2021 looks like a hell of a year for movies on the big screen,” he added with a laugh.

More AMC Details

“More than 80% of AMC Theatres in the U.S. are open now, and will remain open for moviegoers,” AMC said in its announcement. The company is also “actively planning to open more theatres, especially in New York and California, when authorized to do so by state and county officials,” it said.

AMC noted it was making the announcement “in light of news reports that other movie circuits may temporarily close.”

Even higher percentages of AMC theaters are open in other countries and will remain open in those markets also, it noted, saying more than 90% of its Odeon Cinemas Group theatres across Europe are open now, while 100% of AMC Cinemas in the Middle East are open now.

Commenting on the announcement, AMC CEO and President Adam Aron pointed out that several major films are still scheduled to be released in the near future by Hollywood studios, including Disney’s Soul (Nov. 20) and Universal’s The Croods: A New Age (Nov. 25) over the next month and a half.

While Warner’s Tenet “has been stimulating moviegoers and is still leading the box office,”  The War With Grandpa from 101 Studios and Brookdale Studios, starring Robert De Niro, “will be prominent all across the U.S. on the big screens of AMC” starting Oct. 9, Aron said in a statement.

One factor that is helping AMC is its agreement with Universal Studios announced earlier this summer that Aron said “puts AMC in a position where we can open our theatres when others may feel the need to close.” He explained: “We are fully comfortable showing Universal films in our theaters, even as they implement premium video on demand as we have mutually agreed. This is because AMC will share in premium revenues coming from their early availability in the home.”

The company has implemented AMC Safe & Clean protocols, developed in consultation with Clorox and faculty of the Harvard University School of Public Health, Aron also said, adding: “Our guests are telling us that our theatres have never been cleaner, and that they recognize the great effort AMC is making to keep them healthy and safe.”

Other upcoming new film releases to be shown at AMC theaters include the musical drama Yellow Rose Oct. 9, the Liam Neeson action film Honest Thief and 2 Hearts Oct. 16, the horror movies The Empty Man (Oct. 23) and Come Play (Oct. 30), Let Him Go starring Kevin Costner Nov. 6, Universal’s horror comedy Freaky and The Comeback Trail (De Niro again) Nov. 3 and Sony’s Happiest Season Nov. 25.