AMC Theatres has delayed plans to reopen its cinemas as coronavirus cases surge across the United States. The company, which ranks as the country’s largest movie theater chain with more than 600 locations, will now open its venues in mid to late August.
The problem of when and how moviegoing can safely resume and cinemas can broadly resume business has been a thorny one for the exhibition space. It has been made even more complicated by the rise in COVID-19 cases in states such as Arizona, California, and Florida, as well as a lack of clarity on when major markets such as New York City will allow theaters to welcome guests.
AMC has shifted its date for reopening as several major Hollywood blockbusters, namely Warner Bros.’ sci-fi thriller “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan” remake, have moved their debuts back. The chain initially said it would welcome guests back on July 15, later moving that date to July 30. Earlier this week, Warner Bros. announced that it was taking “Tenet” off the release calendar, but still planned to open the film at some time in 2020. “Mulan” is also expected to delay its premiere, and other major movies are considering new release dates.
In a press release announcing the move, AMC said its “new timing reflects currently expected release dates for much anticipated blockbusters like Warner Bros.’ ‘Tenet’ and Disney’s ‘Mulan,’ as well as release dates for several other new movies.” AMC will need to have its theaters in operation for several weeks prior to the debuts of any new movies, so it can institute new cleaning and safety procedures. It plans to play older movies during that period.
The exhibition industry has made a point of highlighting its work to ensure that its locations stay COVID-19 free — it has worked with health experts to figure out ways to keep its guests socially distanced and to reduce interactions between staff and patrons by pushing things such as contact-free ticketing. AMC CEO Adam Aron undercut his efforts to convince the general public that exhibitors were taking every precaution when he told Variety in June that patrons would not be required to wear masks in states and counties where it was not mandated. His explanation that the theater chain “did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” had the opposite effect, leading to boycott threats. Within 24-hours, AMC and Aron reversed course, declaring that mask-wearing would be required.
Movie theaters have been hit hard by coronavirus closures. AMC has been operating with almost no revenue since March when a rise in COVID-19 infections prompted it to shutter its theaters and furlough much of its staff. In recent years, AMC used debt to revitalize its theaters with new seating and to buy competitors such as Carmike and Odeon Cinemas. The company ended 2019 heavily leveraged, with more than $4.75 billion in corporate borrowings. Earlier this month, AMC announced that it had reached an agreement to reduce its debt load and provide additional liquidity.
Overseas, the picture has been brighter for AMC. Roughly one-third of its locations in Europe and the Middle East are currently operating.