KTEP - El Paso, Texas

For Movie Theaters, A Pivotal Fall Season Begins at CinemaCon

Aug 28, 2021
Originally published on August 30, 2021 3:10 pm

This week at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Hollywood studios debuted their upcoming fall releases to theater owners and industry press. The three-day convention known as CinemaCon, offered a sneak peak of upcoming fall and Christmas blockbusters in waiting, like the new superhero movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Matrix 4: Resurrections. Attendees were treated to the first 13 minutes of the new Top Gun: Maverick and nearly ten minutes of the long-delayed James Bond film No Time to Die.

YouTube

"People who have been stuck at home for a very long time, we would want them to know that it's time to come back to the movie cinemas," says John Fithian, who heads NATO, the National Association of Theater Owners, which hosted the conference. Fithian says a year and a half after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered cinemas, more than 85% of them are back or gearing back for business, with safety protocols in place. "The really good news is that the federal government and many other state governments came and responded by providing grant funds and in many cases, tax recovery breaks to operators and movie theaters to let them to be able to survive the pandemic."

Closed theaters aren't the only challenge to the industry

Fithian figures only about a thousand of the 42,000 theaters in the U.S. didn't survive financially, and are permanently closed. There were other challenges to movie theaters during the pandemic. For instance, theater owners panicked when Warner Brothers debuted its entire 2021 slate simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. And Disney's release of Black Widow on its streaming platform the same day it came out in theaters prompted actress Scarlett Johansson to sue the company.

During CinemaCon, Fithian pleaded for studios to reexamine their movie release strategies. "Though that was understandable during the heights of the pandemic, it's now the case as we're coming out of the pandemic, that we need to return to models that have those exclusive windows in them so that so the entire movie chain can be can be profitable again."

Charles Rivkin, who heads the Motion Picture Association, also took the stage during the convention. He warned that digital releases have made it easier for pirates to copy and sell movies illegally. Rivkin also said movie productions have adapted to new safety protocols and he talked about a great comeback for the movie industry. He drew comparisons to innovations after the influenza pandemic last century.

A new golden era could be coming, but moviegoers are wary

"Paramount Pictures, AMC, MGM, Warner, Disney, all of them were founded in the 1920's," he said. "Think what happened: people were locked in their homes during that terrifying pandemic of 1918, and then when they came out and the pandemic eased, they all wanted to go out an resume their life. And it sparked innovation, and it sparked demand, and it was a new golden era in many ways, for our industry. And I think you're gonna see the same thing. People are dying to get back to the theaters."

NATO's leader Fithian says while movie theater attendance is gradually increasing, he acknowledges the Delta variant has made some people hesitant to return. Rebecca Pahle, deputy editor of Boxoffice Pro magazine, was also at CinemaCon. She says she understands why some movie lovers are still worried about going back to crowded theaters. "That has nothing to do with release strategies or even the exhibition industry itself," she said. "It has to do with masking and with vaccination rates. People just need to get vaccinated and we're going to see, I think, waves of people being more comfortable and ready to come back to movie theaters."

As CinemaCon's film previews revealed, the splashy content will be ready for audiences when they return. That includes big-budget studio films that will only premiere in theatres - like Disney's Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which is out September 3rd, and WarnerMedia's first post-COVID film with an exclusive theatrical release, The Batman, which will be released next March.

: 8/29/21

In the audio, as in a previous version of the web story, we say there are 4,200 theaters in the U.S. The correct number is 42,000.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Movie theaters are open again, but many people are still not comfortable being back in those crowds. And with some of the biggest summer blockbusters now available at home, some may ask, why go back at all? But movie theater owners know they have to lure audiences back to survive. They gathered this week for an industry convention known as CinemaCon. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has more.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: CinemaCon offered a sneak peek into upcoming big screen releases like the new superhero movie "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

J K SIMMONS: (As J. Jonah Jameson) That's right, folks. Spider-Man is, in fact, Peter Parker.

TOM HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) Listen. I did not kill Mysterio, the drones did.

DEL BARCO: The three-day convention, held at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, also premiered the first movie trailer for "Matrix 4: Resurrections" (ph). Attendees were treated to the first 13 minutes of the new "Top Gun: Maverick" movie and nearly 10 minutes of the long-delayed James Bond film, "No Time To Die."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NO TIME TO DIE")

DANIEL CRAIG: (As James Bond) Bond. James Bond.

JOHN FITHIAN: People who have been stuck at home for a very long time, we would want them to know that it's time to come back to the movie cinemas.

DEL BARCO: John Fithian heads NATO, the National Association of Theater Owners, which hosted the conference. He says a year and a half after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered cinemas, more than 85% of them are back or gearing back for business with safety protocols in place. Fithian figures only about a thousand of the 4,200 theaters in the U.S. didn't survive financially. And some are permanently closed.

There were other challenges during the pandemic. Theater owners panicked when Warner Brothers debuted its entire 2021 slate simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK WIDOW")

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Natasha Romanoff) I'm done running from my past.

DEL BARCO: Disney's release of "Black Widow" on its streaming platform the same day it came out in theaters prompted actress Scarlett Johansson to sue the company. During CinemaCon, Fithian pleaded for studios to re-examine their movie release strategies.

FITHIAN: Though that was understandable during the height of the pandemic, it's now the case as we're coming out of the pandemic that we need to return to models that have those exclusive windows in them so the entire movie chain can be profitable again.

DEL BARCO: Charles Rivkin, who heads the Motion Picture Association, also addressed the 4,000 cinema con attendees. He warned that digital releases have made it easier for pirates to copy and sell movies illegally. He said movie productions have adapted to new safety protocols, and he talked about a great comeback for the industry. Rivkin drew comparisons to innovations after the influenza pandemic last century.

CHARLES RIVKIN: Paramount Pictures, AMC, MGM, Warner, Disney, all of them were founded in the 1920s. I think what happened, people were locked in their homes during that terrifying pandemic of 1918. And then when they came out and the pandemic eased, they all wanted to go out and resume their life.

DEL BARCO: Rivkin says it drove demand for movies, and he said that could happen again. But not everyone is so confident. Rebecca Pahle, deputy editor of Boxoffice Pro magazine, was also a CinemaCon. She says she understands some movie lovers are very worried about the delta variant.

REBECCA PAHLE: That has nothing to do with release strategies or even the exhibition industry itself. It has to do with masking and with vaccination rates. It's - people just need to get vaccinated. And we're going to see, I think, waves of people being more comfortable and ready to come back to movie theaters. And the content will be ready for them.

DEL BARCO: That upcoming content includes films that will only premiere in theaters like Disney's "Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS")

SIMU LIU: (As Shaun) Shang-Chi.

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) Shan-Chi.

LIU: (As Shaun) Schang.

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) Shan.

LIU: (As Shaun) Schang.

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) Schan.

LIU: (As Shaun) S-C-H-A-N-G - Schang.

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) That's what I said.

DEL BARCO: ...And Warner Media's first post-COVID film with an exclusive theatrical release, "The Batman."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As The Riddler) You're a part of this, too.

DEL BARCO: You can see that movie in cinemas next March. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As The Riddler) You'll see.

[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio, as in a previous version of the web story, we say there are 4,200 theaters in the U.S. The correct number is 42,000.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.