Though chains are trumpeting safety standards that include reduced capacity (25 to 50 percent in most states), mask requirements, and enhanced air-filtration systems, health experts aren’t sold on the idea of sitting in a windowless room with strangers for hours while the U.S. caseload remains so high. And even though Unhinged sold hundreds of tickets per theater, its five best-selling locations were drive-ins, according to Deadline. Audiences are still returning quite slowly to regular theaters (or “hard tops,” as the drive-in business calls them), and studios won’t be able to expect big business until those attitudes shift and major markets like New York and California reopen.
Unhinged is not a film that will slyly tempt viewers back to theaters en masse. It’s a blunt instrument of a movie, in which Crowe does determined work as a villain with no name, no backstory, and no interest in currying audience sympathy. His motivation for chasing Rachel (Caren Pistorius) around New Orleans is barely defined; he’s simply a case of road rage gone nuclear, a nightmare of masculine excess made flesh and blood. The film is more interested in deploying well-staged murder set pieces than in asking deep questions. But those movie kills are effective, and having an Oscar-winning star at the center of them gives the project a glitzier sheen than it perhaps deserves. Plus, it’s essentially the only option out there.
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But this week, Disney will add its long-delayed comic-book film The New Mutants to the mix, and MGM will release the legacy sequel Bill and Ted Face the Music. Unhinged’s studio, Solstice, put out a survey underlining enthusiastic audience reactions to the screenings. “97 percent of U.S. moviegoers recommend seeing a new movie in theaters to their friends,” read the press release, citing a survey conducted by the analytics firm Comscore. “Some 57 percent of the respondents stated their top motivation for going to the movie theater was a desire to socialize and return to normal.”
Those sunny survey numbers could change if theaters end up more concretely linked to the spread of COVID-19. For now, major chains are proceeding apace, getting ready for the rollout of Tenet on Labor Day weekend. Nolan’s blockbuster, starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, cost about $205 million and is being advertised as the first major event worthy of people returning to cinemas. Across Asia and Europe, the film stands to earn significantly—the Chinese box office in particular has sprung back to life of late, and Tenet is opening to packed houses around Europe today. But those parts of the world have COVID-19 more significantly under control, while in America, going to the theater remains a gamble.
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