Movie theaters in the time of COVID-19

How top chains are responding


A typical movie theater room.

Maeva Andriamanamihaja, Author

Many different businesses have suffered this year as COVID cases have continued to increase nationwide since March, some having to close down temporarily and some, permanently. Among the industries that have taken a hit, film has been affected by the decline in theater customers and the movie productions that have been delayed. Theaters have been a focal point in the efforts to reopen businesses, and some chains with prominent locations in Northern Virginia such as AMC and Cinemark have begun welcoming customers back, leaving viewers to wonder how safe it will be to return.  


AMC has experienced an 85% decline in attendance compared with that period last year since reopening in Augustbut the company remains committed to keeping their theaters open. CEO Adam Aron says, “Our groundbreaking agreement with Universal Studios puts AMC in a position where we can open our theatres when others may feel the need to close. The company entered a deal with Universal Studios to share profits from premium videos on demand in exchange for theatrical exclusivity on newly released movies. He further states, “We take great comfort in knowing that literally millions of moviegoers have already visited our theatres.” AMC has developed safety protocols with the help of Clorox and the Harvard University School of Public Health. 


Regal Cinemas, a chain with a Gainesville location that was a popular spot for Battlefield students, reopened their doors on August 21 only to temporarily close all 536 of their US theaters again on October 8. CEO of Regal’s parent company Cineworld, Mooky Greidinger, cites the delaying of highly anticipated blockbuster films for the company’s decision. He states, “Without new releases, Cineworld cannot provide customers with the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theaters against the backdrop of COVID-19.” He adds, “We did everything in our power to support a safe and sustainable reopening in the US.” During the first six months of 2020, Cineworld lost $1.6 billion. 


Though some theaters are reopening, potential movie-goers may be unsure of the possible health risk being posed. Dr. Lahita, a chairman of medicine at St. Joseph’s Health in New Jersey, states that, “There’s always an inherent risk, but I was actually surprised at how thorough some of the theaters’ planning is.” He believes that the safety measures these chains are taking including distanced seating and frequent cleaning will go a long way for those returning to the theaters. However, most Americans, as found in a recent survey by Morning Consult, are not ready to go back. 


As theaters respond to the current climate, they are attempting to navigate this changing atmosphere just as the rest of the world is. The pushback of anticipated blockbusters has certainly impacted these chains’ decisions. While viewers are deciding whether to go back or not, the future of these theaters remains greatly uncertain.