When 2020 began, the future of movie theaters looked bright. Seemingly every major Hollywood studio was pursuing its own cinematic universe, and every big-budget film was seeking a sequel. Viewers were promised a slew of surefire hits, including a new Christopher Nolan thriller, Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond, and the next era of Marvel movies. “There’s no way one can say theatrical is dead,” Deadline observed of the year to come.
Of course, 2020 put that declaration to the test. The COVID-19 pandemic forced indoor-viewing suspensions, Hollywood’s biggest studios delayed their most anticipated titles, and theatrical windows shrank—or disappeared altogether—to accommodate the boom in streaming services. After earning a record $42.3 billion in 2019, the global box office tumbled a whopping 72 percent last year.
Now, as vaccination rates climb and film-release dates hold firm (for the moment), the industry appears ready to heal. Theaters have been slowly reopening across the country—rehiring employees, introducing new cleaning standards, and installing top-of-the-line ventilation systems according to industry-wide guidelines. Major chains such as Cineworld, the U.K.-based owner of Regal Cinemas, have renegotiated how long films will be shown in theaters before going online, and Godzilla vs. Kong, the CGI-drenched monster mash, drew $48.5 million at the box office its first week. Seeing sold-out showings, even at limited capacity, is a “promising sign,” Seth Parsley, a general manager of a UEC Theatre in the South, told me over email. Milt Moritz, the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners of California and Nevada, agreed: “This is the light at the end of the tunnel we were looking forward to for well over a year.”