17 April 2020
American movie theater operators hope to fully reopen their businesses across the United States by late July. The theaters were forced to close last month to slow the coronavirus spread.
Operators are planning for a slow reopening. They aim to open some theaters in parts of the U.S. where infection numbers are dropping.
The limited business could begin as early as mid-June, said Patrick Corcoran, spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners. However, he said the timing of the reopening is not decided yet and will depend on guidance from health officials.
Hollywood production companies are unlikely to release big-budget films during a limited reopening of theaters. Blockbusters such as Walt Disney Company's Mulan and Wonder Woman 1984 from Warner Brothers are currently planned for nationwide release in late July and August.
Will the public return?
One issue the movie industry faces is whether the public will feel safe and at ease about returning to theaters.
"There are two schools of thought," Corcoran said. "People will be very tense and careful and nervous, or people will just be desperate to get out of the house. It's going to probably be a mixture."
During their early weeks back in business, theaters likely will show old movies, or films that were playing in March when theaters closed, Corcoran said.
That could mean showing a beloved musical such as Grease or a series of movies like Back to the Future or Harry Potter, said Brock Bagby, a top official with B&B Theatres. The Missouri-based company operates theaters in seven states.
Movie theater companies are considering special efforts to get people back into theater seats. Ideas include audience costume competitions linked to Harry Potter or serving butterbeer, Potter's favorite drink, at theaters, Bagby said. But, he added "sad or very heavy dramas" are not part of the plan.
"We want the movies we bring back to bring joy to people," Bagby said.
Operators also are debating how to demonstrate new safety measures they establish for reopening, such as increased cleaning. Corcoran questions if seeing the measures in action will make the public more at ease or less. He also said safety measures may differ among theaters depending on local guidance.
Bagby said B&B Theaters will establish social distancing rules if health officials advise it. Several days before closing in March, the company cut the number of permitted theater visitors by 50 percent. Bagby said the theaters had no problems carrying the measure out. He said some showtimes sold out at half-full.
Difficult financial situation
During the shutdown, theater companies and independent operators have been seeking government aid or loans to avoid financial failure. Cinemark Holdings Inc., for example, said on Monday that it had raised $250 million through a sale of debt.
However, a return to usual for Hollywood movie releases will involve more than the U.S. Studios will need sales from around the world to support their costliest films, said Chris Aronson, president of Domestic Film Distribution at ViacomCBS Inc.'s Paramount Pictures.
Paramount currently plans to release the family film, Sponge Bob: Sponge on the Run on July 31. The studio moved another expected summer blockbuster, Top Gun: Maverick, to December.
China, the world's second-largest movie market, reopened theaters in March after an extended closure. Two weeks later, however, China closed them again without explanation.
"If there is great uncertainty in major parts of the world," Aronson said, "I think there are going to be issues opening major films."
I'm Caty Weaver.
Reuters news agency reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
blockbuster –n. something that is very large, costly, or successful
desperate –adj. involving or employing extreme measures in an attempt to escape defeat or frustration
audience –n. a group of people who gather together to listen to something (such as a concert) or watch something (such as a movie or play) : the people who attend a performance
costume –n. the clothes that are worn by someone (such as an actor) who is trying to look like a different person or thing
drama –n. a play, movie, television show, or radio show that is about a serious subject and is not meant to make the audience laugh