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Studios keep delaying major films, placing movie theaters in peril

By Rodney Ho, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #local-all (CNT)

Regal is considering shutting down again.

The grand experiment to revive the theater-going experience during the pandemic is falling apart.

Universal and MGM on Friday pushed back the James Bond film “No Time to Die” from November to April 2021. The owners of Regal Cinema, the second largest movie chain in the United States, are now pondering closing again after reopening a few weeks ago, according to Variety.

Movie theater operators were hoping the film “Tenet” last month would help bring enough people back to movie theaters to kickstart a strong recovery, but its soft performance in North America did not inspire confidence among the major studios. “Tenet” has generated a modest $45 million domestically since Sept. 3, though international box office has been a solid $262 million.

Studios have pushed back an array of major films from 2020 to 2021 including “Minions 2,” “Halloween Kills,” “Eternals,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Jungle Cruise,” “Black Widow” and “A Quiet Place Part II.”

Without enough big-budget blockbusters on the schedule, movie theaters that have reopened since the pandemic began are struggling. And there is a swath of the public still reluctant to spend any length of time in an indoor public space.

“Prognosis for the industry is really bad,” said Brandt Gully, owner of Sandy Springs’ The Springs Cinema and Taphouse. “There are plenty that won’t make it. For me, I’ll be OK if we get any Christmas movies. Just have to keep plugging away at the drive in doing corporate and group events to keep me hanging in there.”

It doesn’t help that indoor theaters in New York and Los Angeles, the two biggest U.S. markets, remain closed.

Some movie theaters are renting out entire theaters for private screenings, which has been a way to make extra money. Studio Movie Grill, for instance, offers options ranging from $200 to $500 depending on the movie and time of week.

Christopher Escobar, owner of the Plaza Theater in Poncey-Highland, said there are still a few more major films scheduled this fourth quarter but he wouldn’t be surprised if they were pushed into 2021 as well.

He only reopened his indoor theater last month featuring reduced capacity and pod seating, mobile food orders and special sanitizing and air flow measures. He had been airing “Tenet” on 70 mm, charging $25 for a premium experience. He said the first two weeks were strong but dropped off in weeks three and four. The theater this weekend is airing a new horror-thriller film called “Possessor.”

The Plaza continues to run two drive-in experiences on weekends in the Plaza parking lot and at Dad’s Garage a couple of miles away.

Escobar said it’s too early to say if the indoor option will work long term without a lot of fresh film options. He also said the drive-in business since school began has fallen off a bit. Overall, he said business is not so bad that he has to close but it’s also not strong enough for him to say he’s in the clear under current pandemic circumstances.