Theater owners anxiously await return of full-house audiences

Violet Chace, Entertainment Editor

Sophomore Deklyn Gardner’s eyes lose focus on the movie he watches on his computer screen as he wonders if movie theaters will become what drive-ins are to him now. Highly anticipated films such as “The Batman” and “Bond: No Time to Die” have had to push back release dates, delay production, or release directly to streaming services. As with most aspects of life in 2020, the way consumers are viewing new films has changed due to COVID-19 and health concerns.

“By releasing the movies to homes instead of theaters, it makes movies more inclusive and could still make the production companies money,” Gardner said.

In addition to the health benefits for viewers, Junior Logan Gerhard feels like streaming movies can be more cost-effective.

“I feel like it’s a good option to have. It’s cheaper, and it allows people to see the movie without having to pay lots of money,” Logan Gerhard said.

While streaming has its benefits for customers, local theaters such as the Premiere Theaters Oaks Stadium 10 are taking a hit.

“If studios continue to skip theaters and head straight to video on demand, cinemas will be shuttered permanently and even more employees will be out of work,” Oaks owner Stephanie Hill said. “After the extended closures due to COVID-19, movie theaters are on the brink of bankruptcy as it is, and this could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.” 

Cinemaworld, another local theater, also faces challenges that were especially severe at the beginning of the pandemic when the state forced the temporary closure of theaters.

“During that time, we had to furlough the majority of our staff, a decision that was extremely difficult for us,” Deal said.

During the temporary shutdown, the Oaks found a way to bring some movie magic to the community.

“We eventually decided to meet up on Wednesdays to give out free popcorn to all of our customers ‘drive-thru style’ in order to see each other and celebrate our Free Popcorn Wednesday tradition,” Hill said. “Even though we were several yards apart, it was nice to be together again.”

While national chains such as AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas have such down indefinitely, Cinemaworld and the Oaks have begun to reopen with new safety and cleaning protocols. However, audiences remain small because some customers continue to avoid the big screen for health and comfort reasons.

“As a consumer I like being able to just watch a movie at home,” Gerhard said. “However, I hope movie theaters still stay so people can go out to the movies together.”

Despite industry hardships, Deal remains confident that cinemas will not close.

“Movie-going is a social experience,” Deal said. “For all of the naysayers, there is nothing like seeing a movie with an audience – the gasp of a twist ending, or the jump during a horror film.” 

According to Deal, theater owners have expressed optimism because an anticipated surplus of 2021 releases should be more than enough to lure audiences back.

“Twenty-twenty-one is shaping up to be a terrific, if not record-breaking, year at the movies,” Deal said. “The summer of 2020 was a bust, but certainly all of those films, along with a bunch that were already in 2021, are going to make one heck of a year at the movies.”

Gerhard said he’s looking forward to at least one of those rescheduled blockbusters.  

“I was really excited for the ‘Black Widow’ movie because she was one of my favorite Marvel superheroes,” Gerhard said.

After showing flashback films for a short period of time, theaters such as the Oaks now offer some new current movie releases including “The War with Grandpa” and “Honest Thief.”

“Now that we have new movies on the big screen, we are hopeful that our local customer support will continue to grow,” Hill said.