Imax CEO Calls New York’s Still Shuttered Movie Theaters “A Head Scratcher” As Indoor Dining Resumes

Andrew Cuomo
Sipa via AP Images

Hopeful New York movie theaters owners got slapped down again Wednesday as Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed to open NYC for indoor dining on Sept. 30 – following a green light for casinos, gyms, bowling alleys and malls — with no word on cinemas.

The omission, according to Imax CEO Rich Gefond, speaking at a media conference today, is “a head scratcher.” Movie chains, especially small independents, are hanging by a thread. Theaters are now open in 45 states and exhibs are mystified by the holdup.

The governor had been getting intense pressure by NYC restaurant owners, especially as diners can pop to adjacent New Jersey or Connecticut. Indoor eateries, which are already open in the rest of the state, will start at 25% capacity, no sitting at bars allowed.

It’s not clear if that’s a hopeful sigh for movie theaters. By now the governor has opened most venues save Broadway and live events. Asked about those specifically at the briefing he indicated they are “high density indoor areas” and said, “I don’t have any additional information.”

“Again, we’ll see how it goes. Your basic question is, ‘Would you be willing to take more risk?’’ Yes, he added, “If the infection rate stays down.” New York’s COVID-19 rate is one of the lowest in the nation. It currently has restrictions on travelers from more than three dozen other states. California, on the other hand, saw cases surge over the summer and has started opening counties on a rolling basis based on infections.

“New York is a little bit of a head scratcher. It’s opened bowling alleys, gyms and casinos and there’s no question that going to theaters is safer than any of those things,” said Gelfond, discussing the challenges the exhibition sector has been facing at the BofA media and communications conference.

The nation’s first big wide release Tenet opened last weekend minus the nation’s two biggest movie markets, New York and Los Angeles. That certainly squeezed Tenet. Director Christopher Nolan’s movies “usually do some of their best business on the coasts, so [the number was] good but not as good as it could have been,” Gelfond said.

He’s glad New Jersey and Connecticut are open. “They usually act in tandem – so we’re hopeful it [NY] will open soon.”

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