Could movie theaters in the U.S. be forced to close in the coming weeks? The coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on the entertainment industry, with many major events such as SXSW being cancelled or postponed, big Hollywood releases being delayed and the box office taking a big hit overseas. There is now growing concern that theaters in the largest moviegoing country in the world may be next in line to take a big hit financially.
While no national order has been given for U.S. movie theaters to close, several cities have begun to implement caps on crowd sizes for public gatherings. California is now limited to 250 and New York is limited to 500. Broadway recently closed down temporarily, which could be a sign of things to come in New York City. Luckily, most movie theaters in the country don't hold that many people, but the situation is rapidly evolving and it's impossible to predict where things could be a week from now. Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners had this to say about it.
"I don't think there will be a country-wide ban on theaters remaining open, but certain municipalities will be impacted. Ultimately, the decision to close will be made for them if everyone cancels their new releases... Everything is changing by the minute."
No Time to Die, Peter Rabbit 2, A Quiet Place: Part II, F9, Mulan, The New Mutants, Antlers and The Lovebirds have all delayed their previously scheduled theatrical releases. That will have a huge impact on the domestic box office, which will impact theater chains such as AMC, Regal, Cinemark and the Alamo Drafthouse. If further major releases such as Black Widow, which is currently scheduled to arrive on May 1, push back as well, there may not be enough playing in theaters to keep the doors open.
So, even if the country as a whole, or individual states, don't force theaters to close, exhibitors' hands could be forced anyway. There's also the matter of potential moviegoers choosing to stay at home instead, as movie theaters are close contact environments. AMC and Canada's Cineplex both recently revealed that they will be cutting seating capacity by half in all theaters. The Alamo Drafthouse recently revealed they are taking extra precautions, such as sanitizing theaters thoroughly between showings. The Drafthouse is also staggering seating in certain locations. AMC Theaters CEO Adam Aron had this to say about it.
"AMC is proactively taking action to cut in half the number of tickets that we will make available at all our U.S. theatres. With this action, we are facilitating the "social distancing" between guests who still want to see movies on a big screen."
Theaters in China have been closed for weeks, with Italy and other countries following suit as COVID-19 spreads. To date, more than 144,000 cases have been reported worldwide, with more than 5,000 deaths. We'll be sure to keep you posted as the situation develops. This news was previously reported by The Hollywood Reporter.