New York City cinemas sprang back to life on Friday with moviegoers showing confidence in theater safety during Covid-19 and delight in being able to reconnect with a favorite form of entertainment.
At 25% capacity, it’s rough going but after a quiet start to the day many evening shows across the city were sold out, according to theater websites.
“Theaters are doing very well in the city, generally speaking, and Hollywood is going to be pleased on Monday,” said Joe Masher, president of NATO New York. “It’s a start. We have to start somewhere,” Masher said.
At the AMC Lincoln Square at 68th and Broadway Manhattanites Roy Cedillo and Benjamin Maddy awaited a screening of The Marksman. It’s their first theatrical foray since Covid and they’ve missed it. “We are three-time a-week movie people and it’s been a year.”
Rebecca Wilson and her sons from just over the bridge in New Jersey, where theaters are technically allowed to be open by many aren’t, were heading up the escalator, also to catch The Marksman. The two boys, Desmond and Wyatt Casteel, are actors. Desmond, 14, was in a classroom scene in The Irishman. “We just want to support the industry,” Wilson said.
Previously: New York City, the nation’s leading movie market along with still-shuttered Los Angeles, springs back to life Friday after being flattened by Covid-19 for nearly a year.
A pulse was detected in advance ticket sales with a handful of shows selling out at AMC Entertainment’s flagship Empire 25 theater in Times Square including a 4:30 p.m. Tom & Jerry and evening screenings of Boogie, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Wonder Woman 1984 and Tenet — as the Christopher Nolan pic released August 12 bends the laws of time. New releases Raya and the Last Dragon and Chaos Walking were big sellers on Day One uptown at the AMC Magic Johnson.
One excited customer is NYC mayoral candidate Andrew Yang — he’ll will be heading out for a date night to celebrate. “That dinky, and let’s be honest, tacky, sign in LA can’t mask the fact NYC is the real entertainment capital. So get your popcorn ready, folks, because movie theaters are back in action and it’s date night at the Yang household,” the former Democratic presidential hopeful said in a press advisory. He’ll be hitting the AMC Empire but didn’t say which film.
But at 25% capacity — the limit set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — sold-out shows don’t mean what they used to. When Cuomo announced the reopening on February 22, he limited theaters to one out of every four available seats and no more than 50 people. That’s a lot of X’s on the seating chart. If you reserve at an AMC, the system automatically blocks out the seats on either side.
Imax CEO Rich Gelfond, who lives in NYC, said he’s pleased theaters are opening and he’ll be going – but not for another week and a half. He’s busy and not expecting a financial bonanza. “With capacity limitations I think the numbers are just too small to be significant.” A sold out show? “That’s 50 people” max, he told Deadline. “What’s more important is that New York is the media capital of the world, and you can’t truly launch a blockbuster without the cultural buzz that comes out of this city.”
New York cinema owners have waited a long time for this. Waited and waited, hanging on Cuomo’s every press briefing with bated breath and increasing chagrin as business after business — from indoor dining to bowling alleys to gyms — got the green light to reopen.
AMC, the biggest exhibitor globally and second in the U.S. after Regal, opened its 13 New York City locations today promising “an improved theatrical experience” and emphasis on health and safety. The chain, which flirted with bankruptcy for much of last year “is thrilled to be welcoming back our New York City guests to the big seats, big sounds and big screens of AMC,” said CEO Adam Aron. The chain has opened more than 500 theaters nationwide.
Regal, which closed all of its U.S. theaters in October, said it’s “encouraged” by NYC’s move but is staying dark — including the giant Regal E-Walk directly across 42nd Street from the AMC Empire. “We look forward to the capacity restrictions expanding to 50% or more so that we can operate profitably,” said a Regal rep.
Alamo Drafthouse, the specialty chain that filed for Chapter 11 earlier this week to sell itself to a group of investors, said it’s “so excited that we have the opportunity to bring what we’ve learned about creating the safest and most relaxing cinematic experience possible to our Brooklyn flagship location.” It didn’t make it for today – “There’s a lot to do – but we look forward to reopening City Point as soon as possible, and we’ll make plenty of noise when we do.”
According to distribution sources, 49 theaters are scheduled to be active this weekend out of 133 total active New York locations (not including some New Jersey and Connecticut cinemas that roll up under the New York DMA). Some 84 theaters will remain inactive this weekend; 24 of those are Regal locations.
Los Angeles, the nation’s biggest movie market, is inching towards opening cinemas as well. The closure of NY and LA, which make up a combined 12%-14% of U.S. box office, has been blamed for studios not holding to their release schedules. That dragged down all of exhibition because even intrepid moviegoers in areas where theaters were open and who weren’t restrained by pandemic jitters had little new to see.
As vaccines roll out with increasing efficiency and Covid-19 cases fall in New York (and nationally), some in the industry think New York City could raise the 25% capacity to 50% relatively soon – maybe May or June. Theaters in the rest of New York State are already open at 50% capacity.
But in a shifting pandemic equation Europe is now recovering more slowly than the U.S. now and some fear that could keep the release slate in flux. Yesterday Universal’s F9 was pushed out, for a third time, from May to June, and Minions: The Rise of Gru moved out a year to July of 2022. (Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II moved up, taking the F9 slot).
Theaters in England won’t reopen until May 17. In Germany, under a five-step process cinemas may be able to reopen starting March 22 at the earliest. Italy has set a March 27 date. France has no reopening set. “I think the U.S. will be in decent shape around May from a public perception point of view,” Gelfond said. Others countries “are a little behind and a little slower.”
Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.