See update below in bold paragraph.
Another day, another delay. Does anyone honestly think this will be the last one? Of course not.
AMC Theatres, the nation’s largest movie theater chain, announced that they will now reopen on July 30, roughly two weeks after they had originally planned to be fully operational.
The move is primarily the result of the continued national spike in COVID-19 cases, but it also comes on the heels of Warner Bros. delaying the Tenet release from mid-July to August 12. Disney has also bumped Mulan from July 24 to August 21. Both of those delays were due to the ongoing COVID increase as well.
UPDATE: Following AMC’s announcement, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark Theatres — the 2nd and 3rd largest theater chains — have also announced that they will delay their reopens until the end of July. For Cinemark, that’s nearly a full-month delay. Originally having planned to reopen on July 1st, Cinemark has begun refunding already-purchased tickets for the holiday weekend. Now, Cinemark will reopen on Friday July 24. Regal will reopen a week later on Friday July 31.
As I theorized in the report about the Tenet delay, I don’t expect this current calendar of August dates to hold. Barring a dramatic dive in COVID-19 cases over the next two weeks — which would seem scientifically impossible (and, if anything, the reverse seems far more likely) — wide public demand for returning to movie theaters won’t be there by the end of July or early-to-mid August, certainly not at the level that studios such as Warner Bros. and Disney absolutely need in order to recoup their ginormous budgets for tentpoles like Tenet, Mulan, and Wonder Woman 1984.
In addition, many states — including California, the home of Hollywood — may actually have restrictive laws still in place during late July and August that ban event houses like movie theaters from even being open for business.
By the time it’s all said and done, my expectation is that the current 2020 movie calendar will be dramatically reworked over the next two months.
The process will continue to be incremental, with ongoing two-week punts being the norm, because it’s smarter for studios to leave the possibility open that audiences may be ready for blockbusters in theaters than it is to surrender right now that possibility altogether.
As naive as that may seem, don’t assume that it suggests out-of-touch wishful thinking on behalf of greed-driven studio execs. On the contrary, these incremental shifts ultimately prove that studios aren’t willing to force a reopen. There’s no business model for successfully doing that and they know it. They simply want to keep the earliest possible option on the table until it is officially no longer an option.
While I expect the current August and September studio releases to shift to October through December (at the earliest) and thus force current October through December titles to be affected accordingly, I don’t expect theater chains like AMC to be nearly as stringent. Nor should they be.
Theaters will open as soon as they possibly can, regardless of how soon they can get a new studio movie into their multiplexes, because they are bleeding cash right now. Even if classic titles at discount prices is all they have to offer, they’ll run with that as soon as they can and for as long as they have to. I’m betting that AMC’s delay to July 30 is simply a precautionary move that the Tenet shift allowed, but more Tenet shifts won’t always precipitate the same by AMC or other multiplexes.
Which, to be honest, may be the best possible option given the circumstances. I’d wager that, in hindsight, theater chains will actually be grateful for the extra time they’re given to iron out the kinks of implementing COVID-related protocols and addressing public health concerns.