The Largest U.S. Movie Theater Chain Won't Reopen Even If States Say It Can

Some states are allowing theaters to resume operations, even though public health experts advise against it. But there aren't even any new movies to show.

Although states are slowly starting to allow movie theaters to resume operations against the recommendations of public health experts, AMC Theatres, the largest movie theater chain in the U.S., won’t reopen its locations until at least this summer.

“As we plan our reopening, the health and safety of our guests and associates is our absolute highest priority,” the company said Friday in a statement. “To be able to open, we also need a line of sight into a regular schedule of new theatrical blockbusters that get people truly excited about returning to their favorite movie theaters.”

The earliest major releases currently on the calendar are Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” scheduled for July 17, and Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan,” now scheduled for July 24 after being moved from its original March opening.

AMC said it expects to allow moviegoers to return “in the weeks ahead of these new blockbusters” and is figuring out how to do so “in an environment that’s safe and welcoming,” as the COVID-19 crisis makes the prospect of public events and gatherings unlikely for the foreseeable future.

An empty parking lot at an AMC location in Methuen, Massachusetts, on March 29.
An empty parking lot at an AMC location in Methuen, Massachusetts, on March 29.

Hollywood studios and distributors have postponed nearly all of the movies that had been slated for release in the spring and early summer. Many have also opted to make some new releases available via video on demand or streaming, skipping the theaters entirely.

The lack of movie offerings — in addition to the myriad health risks ― made it all the more baffling that some state governors decided this week to allow movie theaters to reopen. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) sparked widespread criticism this week when he announced businesses like gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys could reopen Friday, followed by movie theaters and restaurants on Monday. Oklahoma is allowing movie theaters to reopen on May 1. Tennessee plans to allow “the vast majority” of businesses to reopen on May 1 as well, provided they follow specific guidance from state officials.

On Wednesday, the industry group representing theater owners said it was unlikely most theaters would reopen even if allowed to do so.

“Many theaters will not be able to feasibly open,” the National Association of Theater Owners said in a statement, acknowledging that although Kemp and a handful of other state and municipal leaders are allowing theaters to open their doors again, “the movie theater industry is also a national one.”

AMC, along with Regal and Cinemark, the two other major U.S. theater chains, have all been closed since March, and have since furloughed most of their workers.

Although the major theater chains remain closed, smaller independent theaters could theoretically reopen in states like Georgia. But they will have to weigh the operating costs and the health risks that reopening would pose to employees and customers.

Several Atlanta-area theater owners told the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Thursday that they do not plan to reopen anytime soon, saying it “doesn’t feel like the socially responsible thing to do right now,” and calling it “a dumb idea.” 

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