Two old-time monsters in a historic death match are helping lead the way to recovery for a movie theater industry that was financially devastated by the pandemic.
One such theater, National Amusements’ Showcase Cinema de Lux City Center 15 in downtown White Plains, is capitalizing on the new spectacular monster movie “Godzilla vs. Kong” by showing it not just once on April 3, but 24 times in various auditoriums at City Center, including the giant-screen IMAX theater.
The idea was for as many people as possible to be able to see it despite seating capacity in each auditorium being sharply limited to ensure social distancing due to the virus.
“‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ is tracking better than any movie in terms of advance sales than any since the start of the pandemic,” Mark Malinowski, vice president of global marketing for Showcase Cinemas told the Business Journal.
“City Center and the IMAX are tracking particularly well. Because we have reduced capacity due to state guidance we are adding more and more shows to allow as many people to see the movie as possible. There are already sold-out shows and this movie is really showing that people want to go back to the movies.”
Malinowski said many people in the industry have been looking at that picture as almost a barometer for what’s likely to happen in the coming months.
“Last weekend, in the international launch, it actually broke records in China, close to $70 million, and then the overall international cume was $125 million for the weekend,” Malinowski said. “It’s super exciting for us to see that people want to go back to the movies and this movie is demonstrating it.”
Malinowski said that people are anxious to get out of the house after a year of disruption and an incentive to go out for the theater experience is that the spectacular images and sounds of movies such as “Godzilla vs. Kong” can’t be experienced if the movie is streamed to a home television set.
“The effects are amazing; it’s a creative film. People have been anxious to get off the couch,” Malinowski said. “Our staff is trained. We have new air filtration systems in all of our theaters including City Center, so basically all of the protocols we’ve put into place since last year are making people feel more comfortable but this movie is giving them a reason to come back.”
Just how quickly audiences come back will determine whether and how quickly theaters pull out of the financial bind that the pandemic placed them in. According to Comscore, which tracks box office revenues, the pandemic year 2020 saw only $2.25 billion in domestic box office compared with $11.4 billion in 2019.
“Though the pandemic has caused much disruption to the theatrical business, there are encouraging signs of recovery in many countries around the world,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “Today we know that audiences are anxious to return to enjoying the theatrical experience and the many notable successes just prove that if cinemas are open and offer great content, moviegoers will indeed be excited to watch appealing movies on the big screen.”
Doug Murdock, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Theatre Owners, noted that in Connecticut movie theaters were allowed to reopen on a restricted basis last June.
“They were way ahead of the curve compared with New York,” Murdock told the Business Journal. “With the film studios pulling back on their release schedules it’s been hit or miss and some of the companies chose not to reopen right away while others took their time and looked at the audience levels, closed for a bit, and reopened, so it’s been up and down. For those that have been open, there has been audience interest and they’re all just waiting for the A-list movies to come out.”
Murdock said that theaters in Connecticut, as elsewhere, had a very strong business model before the
“While this has decimated some theaters we think we’ll come out stronger,” Murdock said. “Right now we’re limited to a 50% capacity in Connecticut and a curfew right now still is in place to 11 p.m.”
Phil Contrino of the National Association of Theatre Owners pointed out that cinemas can’t be profitable while operating at sharply reduced capacity, but the association’s members nonetheless are glad to be able to reopen their doors and put their employees back to work.
“Capacity limits will increase and we’ll get back to levels where we can operate profitably. A big part of that will be major releases coming out,” Contrino told the Business Journal from his association’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. “The fact that New York and Los Angeles weren’t open held up a lot of the studios from releasing their big pictures and now that they are open it gives studios what they need to keep those movies on the release calendar and that’s crucial.”
Contrino said that his group, in consultation with leading epidemiologists, developed the program CinemaSafe for theater owners to adopt. It provides safety and health protocols based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. He noted that theater owners have been adapting their refreshment stands to help ensure safety from the virus.
“It’s hard to open without concessions. Basically, you’re not going to be profitable if you don’t have concessions. Its a massive component of a theater’s profitability and it’s what people want when they go to the movies,” Contrino said.
Contrino suggested that because people have spent so much time sitting and watching content on their couches at home there’s going to be a huge surge in movie attendance.
“There’s no question that a lot of our members are going to have huge financial hurdles to overcome as a result of this,” Contrino said. “They’re definitely optimistic about the ability to rebound and start to sell tickets again really quickly during the summer when big releases are coming out.”