The future of movie theaters remains very much in flux right now as most major chains, at least in the U.S., face a great deal of uncertainty. But at least a couple of scenarios have been taken off the table, for the time being, as the heads of both Warner Bros. and Universal have declared that they have no plans to buy struggling movie theaters. But that doesn't mean someone else won't.
Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, and Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of Warner Bros., recently participated in a Milken Institute Global Conference virtual panel. During the panel, which focused on 2020's impact on Hollywood, the subject of the studios possibly buying struggling movie theaters came up. Langley was quick to shoot down the idea, saying the following.
"We have no plans to do that currently."
Ann Sarnoff echoed that sentiment saying, "We have no plans either." The idea of studios possibly buying movie theaters has been floated in recent months. For one, because an old law that prevented studios from owning their own theaters has been abolished. Two, because theaters are probably going to go under unless financial aid from the government comes through. At present, that seems unlikely. And if studios still want movie theaters in place once the dust settles and life returns to normal, or whatever the new normal ends up being, they may have to take an active role.
Yet, everything seems to be going to streaming. Movie big movies are abandoning theaters, with Pixar's Sould going straight to Disney+. To that point, Disney recently completely reorganized to prioritize making content for its streaming services. Be that as it may, all of the studios have at least stated that they remain committed to the theatrical experience, even if that experience has to chance. Ann Sarnoff, speaking further, echoed that while saying they are rooting for theater chains to pull through.
"I'm kind of an armchair sociologist and I believe people want to have communal experiences and especially with certain genres. We're big fans of the exhibitors. They've been good partners of ours for many decades. We're rooting for them. I know it's tough sledding right now. I'm hoping they come out on the other side, probably even stronger."
Unfortunately, things don't look good. AMC is bleeding cash and is expected to run out of money by early 2021. Cineworld, which operates Regal in the U.S., recently shut down all of its theaters again indefinitely. And with almost no big movies left on the calendar for 2020, save for Free Guy, Death on the Nile, The Croods 2 and Wonder Woman 1984, assuming its current date sticks, there is little hope on the horizon.
With that in mind, it is easy to imagine at least one major chain heading for bankruptcy. Earlier this year, rumors circulated that Amazon was looking to buy AMC. That was debunked at the time, but it doesn't seem impossible or all that unrealistic at this point. Perhaps a major content producer will buy a failing theater chain. It just won't be Warner Bros. or Universal. This news was previously reported by Deadline.