Restaurants are filling up, salons are retaking appointments, and bars are easing back into business. Now, movie theaters are beginning to welcome back patrons. After weeks-long closures during coronavirus lockdown, Studio Movie Grill, Cinépolis USA, and Cinemark—all based in North Texas—plan to reopen in the coming days.
Executives at all three companies said 50-percent occupancy guidelines would be in place, and that aggressive cleaning measures will be taken to help ensure moviegoer safety.
The pandemic has hit theater operators particularly hard. It’s the latest hardship for the industry, which is already battling declines in demand and increased competition from streaming services. Statista puts global coronavirus losses for cinemas at an estimated $10 billion.
Plano-based Cinemark, which closed all of its U.S. locations mid-March, reported a net loss of $59.6 million in the first quarter of the year—down from a profit of $32.7 million in the same period last year. It’s a setback that “continues to impact us today,” Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi said.
Studio Movie Grill and Cinépolis—both private companies and both based in Dallas—did not share financial details and said they are focused on recovery.
With business evaporating, Studio Movie Grill was forced to take drastic measures. “It’s a tough time going from 7,000 employees, having to furlough down to a few dozen,” said Brian Schultz, the company’s CEO and founder.
The Lure of the Cinema
EDO, a leading analytics company, surveyed nearly 7,000 Americans about the future dynamic of social distancing in theaters; 40 percent said they plan to return to cinemas upon reopening, while 36 percent are unlikely to return.
The same respondents were asked if they were more likely to return to theaters if proper safety measures are implemented, and 75 percent said they were more likely to return.
“People are eager to come back to the theater,” said Olloqui of Cinépolis USA. “They miss the movie popcorn, and it’s a place they can really forget what’s going on outside.”
Cinemark and Studio Movie Grill plan to open select locations this Friday, and the Cinépolis Victory Park location is expected to open June 26. Garland’s Strike + Reel has already opened its 90,000-square-foot theater with movies for $4 all day, every day for a limited time. AMC, the world’s biggest theater chain, plans to reopen in July, but the announcement comes on the heels of a statement from the theater expressing ‘substantial doubt’ that it can remain in business.
Still, the question remains: If theaters are no longer the only places to watch hot new movies upon release, what is left to attract crowds?
If movie theaters buckle under the pressure, it could leave Dallas-Fort Worth with more vacant buildings. Still, alternative uses for the commercial real estate space are already being discussed.
Industry veteran Larry Jordan, senior vice president of Transwestern’s Central region’s retail group, says there are several possibilities.
“They could be fulfillment centers, retail distribution, or banquet centers,” he said. “They could be used as educational facilities, conference centers, with the height some have, we could do R.V. and boat stores, storage centers, Main Event, Pinstack, Urban Air, just a whole array of opportunities.”
Despite the many challenges they face, Cinema executives remain hopeful. “The industry has survived the arrival of radio, television, color T.V., VHS, DVDs, Blu-ray, and now streaming,” Olloqui said. “There’s always been something killing the movie theater industry, but we’re still here.”
Schultz concurred: “Being away from showing movies and entertaining guests for so long has given us a renewed appreciation for how important it is for film to be a platform for opening hearts and minds—one story at a time.”