‘What’s Poppin’?’ At the Movies


by Donnie Shields


            During the course of the semester, we have learned and covered a lot of topics. Whether it was predetermined by week or we were given creative freedoms, we all had to meet deadlines and discuss important (sometimes controversial) themes. However, I feel like it would not be my final project without covering a subject in my field of filmmaking and entertainment. Specifically: Movie Theaters and the COVID Pandemic.

            I had touched on this crisis earlier in the semester, dealing with specifics in theaters closing and the loss of revenue (possibility of no Billion Dollar film club members in 2020, no Oscars in 2021, spike in Streaming Services and AMCs bankruptcy). For this assignment, I again dove into the specifics via revenue and theater closings, however, I did get the chance to sit down with a local theater own to discuss his plans for the future opening.


            Running is hard. Running a business, is even harder. Especially in a pandemic.

            Unlike many runners who keep their pace and are experienced in the long haul of conditioning, much of America is struggling to keep up with the rapid change in these times. Businesses, in general, see that finish line fading further and further into the distance – assuming they see it at all.

            Many have closed up shop for good. Ma and Pa shops that have been family ran since the Great Depression, now fall to a Depression of their own. COVID-19 has taken its toll on the economy and have left only companies big enough to financially support themselves alive. Movie theaters, are starring to become part of that casualty.

            AMC has filed for bankruptcy, a theater in Wilkes-Barre has foreclosed, and streaming services are leading the way towards a more seclusive future. AMC and Regal Theaters closed over 1,200 venues alone back in March 2020, and projected over 41,000 theaters to have been closed by April 10th, 2020 (FORBES). Global Entertainment, that had been up over $101 billion worldwide in 2019, is set to barely crack a billion by the end of 2020. The Global Box Office reached a high of $42.2 billion in 2019 and will not even come close to that moving forward (due to Japan, China and United States being key players in the market). On top of that, movie tickets declined 5% from 2018 to 2019, generating 1.244 billion. That makes it sound a lot better than it is since the average theaters ticket price has risen $3 over the last decade.

            These numbers can look deceiving; especially when the audience sees the billions of dollars still generated by corporate theaters and studios, but what about the smaller theaters?

            Cinema and Drafthouse owner, Sybil Katona expressed her biggest concern on the Hope Speaks Podcast set to air May 11th on the Shield of Hope Productions’ YouTube channel. “We have such as great community here that we know people will come back to the theater once this is all over, but right now it is not only rough on us but our employees. We love them. They are like family.” Most theater owners feel that once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, life will proceed as close to normal as possible. “There are customers that know we aren’t open, and they come in to buy our gift cards just to show their support and appreciation for our family business.” In detail, Katona describe that when she purchased the business in 2011 that they had renovate the three-time owned theater and put nearly $200,000 into it. AMC had renovated their theater chains in the previous several years ago, going roughly $5 billion in debt before coming back to the clear at the start of 2020; only to see their businesses close due to COVID-19 and filling for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

            A lot of family businesses have not and will not survive another month or two in shutdown, but the communities that have supported each other over countless years will once again find ways to support their own in tribulations. The entertainment and film community is one of strength and passion, as are those of sports, arts, etc. The local Berwick Theater and Center for Community Arts in Berwick, Pennsylvania, has embraced their community with drive-up popcorn nights, handing out items for those in need, and collecting donations from those willing to give. We have reached out for a comment, but to no response.

But none of this optimism erase the cloud of uncertainty looming over theater’s heads. “We just have to hang on and be optimistic,” Katona closes her statement of the future of her Cinema and Drafthouse. The 41,000 plus theaters closed during this time are telling and the probability of all 41,000 reopening this year (if at all) is unlikely. AMC’s bankruptcy, though caught in a perfect storm, may still be the tell-tale sign for what we should expect to our theater businesses moving forward.

However, I do believe that when one curtain falls – another one will rise. And that, in itself, may be just the light the theaters need right now.  




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