Movie theatres look to bounce back after drastic 2020


Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

FILE – The currently closed AMC Burbank 16 movie theatres complex is pictured on April 29, 2020, in Burbank, Calif. After several false starts, the film industry is hoping to bring new releases back into movie theaters in late August. But for blockbusters, it may mean rethinking opening weekend and returning to a more gradual rollout through international and U.S. territories. Gone for now are the days of massive global openings. And theater owners say if they don’t get new films soon, they may not make it to 2021. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

Buttery popcorn, dimmed lights and supposedly silenced cell phones: These are all key elements of the movie theater experience, and trying to recreate the experience at home just doesn’t compare, no matter how hard you try.

It’s no secret that the movie theater industry has changed drastically in the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When stay-at-home orders were implemented last year, movie theaters were deemed nonessential and closed until further notice, pressing pause on the latest blockbuster releases. In 2020, domestic box office total gross income was $2 billion, which is minuscule compared to 2019’s $11 billion. 

Substantial minimizing of income has led a number of big-name chain theaters to permanently close their doors to the public, including brands such as Pacific Theaters and Chicago’s own Arclight Cinemas. 

Filming holds have increased due to the pandemic, making it so that film releases have either been slowly delayed or completely put on hold. 

“They are anticipating a huge influx of film and television to be shot later this year, that there’s going to be a mad rush to cast and crew people to try and at least somewhat catch up on how far behind the studios and networks are,” said Christopher Parrish, a professor at DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts. 

With movie theaters closed for such a large portion of 2020, movie makers had to get creative with releasing films. Disney+ users have had access to movies such as the live action “Mulan” remake, as well as “Raya and the Last Dragon,” with Disney+ Premier. This service allows for Disney+ subscribers to have access to select movies at the same time as the theater release, for an additional cost. This service began with the “Mulan” remake, which was supposed to have a large theater release before the pandemic took hold. 

However, this new movie release method most likely will not replace the traditional theater setting. Slowly, movie theaters nationwide are opening their doors once again to customers in hope of drawing back crowds. Theaters have adapted in the midst of the pandemic to cater to its crowds while also adhering to social distancing guideline and state regulations. 

Besides social distancing and being required to wear a mask, the movie theater experience is quite similar to pre-pandemic times. Concessions are still being sold, so there is no need to worry about when you’ll be able to have a helping of hot, buttery popcorn. Concessions constitute the majority of a movie theater’s revenue. 

At Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, located on Southport Avenue, business is being maintained by those customers who know and trust the theater. 

FILE- The Music Box Theatre, located in Lakeview. (Courtesy of Music Box Theatre )

“For us to draw people back in, we’re doing the same that we’ve been doing the entire pandemic,” said Ryan Oestreich, the general manager of the Music Box Theatre. “We’re keeping a safe, clean, risk-mitigated environment; we’re enforcing our policies and procedures to make sure there is not a single spread of Covid, and there has not been under our watch at our theater the entire time.”

Oestreich says that by keeping his audience safe and comfortable, as well as playing new films alongside repertory films that the Music Box is known for, it draws customers back to the theater experience. 

Although the past year has been rough on the movie theater industry, there’s no need to worry. The concept of a theater has endured thousands of years of hardship, from ancient Greek theaters to the plays of Shakespeare. The Covid-19 pandemic will most likely not stop the trend and appeal of gathering together to enjoy a show. 

“It’s a social experience,” said Hari Chutturi, a film and television major at DePaul. “There’s an action and reaction to the things that are happening on screen. You don’t get that experience when it comes to streaming service. Sure, you could be watching it with a group of friends, but it’s not the same as [having] an audience of say 50 people in the same room.”

This year’s blockbusters are slowly getting the movie theater business back to what it was pre-pandemic. 

“A lot of places in the country are slowly rebounding, and I mean slowly,” Oestreich said. “But people are getting vaccinated, and feeling more comfortable going back to the theaters.”

So far, “Godzilla vs. Kong” has been the biggest domestic box office release of 2021. The film earned a total gross income of more than $86 million since its release on March 31. 

The movie theater industry is most likely not going away. Instead, it is simply pivoting to recover its losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With theaters providing screens and clean, sanitized places for people to view films, the collective, social experience of watching a film in theaters is here to stay.