The marquee at the IFC Center in Manhattan welcomes spectators again after being closed for almost a year. Ryan Kailath / NPR hide subtitles
Ryan Kailath / NPR
Ryan Kailath / NPR
Cinemas in Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, and Philadelphia have been open for months. However, visitor numbers remain low, not only for public safety reasons, but also because there isn’t much to see. Large studios delay their blockbusters or release them for streaming straight away.
A big reason? The country’s two largest film markets, New York City and Los Angeles, will remain closed.
Now New York City Theater is reopening with reduced capacity. AMC Theaters, the largest chain in the country, opens its doors on March 5th. The second largest, Regal Entertainment, however, remains obscure.
“It’s all because New York and LA are closed, that other big markets just don’t have big movies to play,” said Patrick Corcoran, vice president and chief communications officer of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). “Films opening in New York and LA give studios confidence that their bigger titles will open well across the country and internationally.”
According to Corcoran, the two cities account for 12 to 14% of the domestic box office. The real impact, however, is the marketing boost they provide. “The media focus you get from New York and LA … studios want these big markets to open up to flavor-making.”
The reduced level at which New York will reopen – the smaller number of 50 people, or 25% capacity – is perfectly reasonable for safety reasons, Corcoran says. It is not enough, however, to put the finances of the warring chains in the black. Even so, some theater owners are impatient to shake off the dust and get their operations back on track.
“We see this as a process,” says John Vanco, general manager of the IFC center with five screens in Manhattan. “This is a way to get back to normal, even if it is a change in normality.”
The IFC center goes beyond the state-prescribed guidelines for reopening and for safety reasons does not receive any further income by not offering any concessions. No concessions mean no excuse to remove your mask, says Vanco.
The buzz that comes from opening films in New York is one of the reasons Vanco is committed to the audience and the industry to open as soon as possible. “This is a place where people take their cinema seriously,” he says. “There is a backlog of a great many films that did not appeal to New York audiences. We don’t want these films to go away.”
The reopening of reduced capacity theaters in New York, and eventually Los Angeles, could not urge studios to suddenly reverse the changes initiated last year. Now that customers are used to streaming movies for the first time at home, Hollywood may be looking for a way to cement that digital future.
Most likely, there will be permanent changes to the “exclusivity window” – the period during which cinemas exclusively enjoyed movies before they were allowed on other platforms. Previously this was 90 days. Now Warner Bros. has gotten rid of it entirely, releasing its entire 2021 list for streaming on the same day the films hit theaters.
However, the theater industry remains confident about the post-pandemic outlook. It comes back to marketing, Corcoran says.
“Cinemas act as curators,” he says. “If it’s good enough to be in a movie theater, you have to be careful. While you turn on your streaming platform and spend half an hour walking through the screen asking what I want to see.” The movies don’t exist in the culture in the same way if they just run on your television. “