Following their forced closure in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, movie theaters have struggled to stay afloat. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema reopened two Austin locations in August, but moviegoers are still weighing the risks of going to in-person showings.
Theaters had a glimmer of hope this past month with the release of two big summer blockbusters, “Tenet” and “The New Mutants.” Theaters across the country hoped they would increase ticket sales and help recover box office losses.
“(Theaters) got by the past 25 years on blockbusters,” said Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, a radio-television-film professor that specializes in film history.
Even with the allure of new releases, some students aren’t comfortable returning to theaters yet.
“Partly because of everything going on with COVID-19, partly because of the social repercussions, I’ve talked with friends and they completely demolish anyone that goes out,” Evan Gruters, a radio-television-film sophomore, said.
According to Alamo Drafthouse’s safety guidelines, employees are required to wear masks at all times. Patrons are required to wear masks unless they are eating or drinking. There are automatically two buffer seats between each party, ensuring guests are at least 6 feet apart.
Steven Morvant, a radio-television-film and journalism junior, saw “The New Mutants” at Alamo Drafthouse in August. “The New Mutants” was originally slated to be released on April 13, 2018, but was delayed multiple times.
“This particular movie I’ve been waiting a couple of years for,” Morvant said. “I’m a big superhero fan. I think with the way things are now, the theater has enough precautions in place that it’s safe to go.”
“Tenet,” a spy thriller by critically acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, made $20 million domestically during Labor Day weekend, which is the biggest domestic opening since the pandemic started, according to IndieWire.
“I really want to see ‘Tenet’ since it just released,” Gruters said. “But considering everything that’s going on, it just doesn’t seem worth going out to a theater.”
Movie theaters were facing financial struggles even before the pandemic. With the advent of streaming and direct-to-video, movie distributors have been finding other ways to make money.
“Only about 10% of what a movie makes nowadays comes from theaters,” Fuller-Seeley said. “Movies don’t need theaters, but theaters need movies.”
With all the hardships theaters are facing, Fuller-Seeley is hopeful they will survive the pandemic. But they might need to offer extra services such as what Alamo Drafthouse provides — reclining seats, food service, etc. — in order to stay afloat.
“We will get back to something a little more normal,” Fuller-Seeley said. “We can also take stock and remember to appreciate certain things we love and say, ‘It’s important to me that this remains.’”