Yes, America, Tom Cruise is actually going to fly onto a big screen near you.
A year after the 2020 summer-movie season evaporated before Hollywood’s eyes as COVID-19 sent the entertainment industry into chaos, people are getting vaccinated, shuttered movie theaters are humming back to life and it’s not just the weather that seems a bit sunnier and brighter.
“I think we’re going to have a summer-movie season. We’re definitely on the right track,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore.
Plus, heading into April, more than half of America’s movie theaters, including New York City and L.A. screens, are back in business: AMC Theatres, the largest chain in America, has reopened 98% of their cinemas and Regal, the second largest, is beginning its reopening April 2 to house “Godzilla vs. Kong” as it crashes into theaters Wednesday.
Sure, it won’t be the $4.3 billion summer of 2019 – but it also likely won’t be akin to a dismal 2020 season that saw just $176.5 million in box office.
There are some heavy hitters on the docket, including “A Quiet Place Part II” (May 28), “F9” (June 25) and “Top Gun: Maverick” (July 2), plus films like “Cruella” (May 28), “Black Widow” (July 9) and “The Suicide Squad” (Aug. 6) hitting theaters and streaming services simultaneously.
And you won’t have to wait: Starting with “Nobody” this week “we are entering a period where we are going to have bigger movies back in theaters on a regular basis,” says Fandango.com managing editor Erik Davis.
Here’s what fans itching to get back to theaters need to know about this summer at the movies:
Vaccinations and consumer confidence are key
Theaters are operating at limited capacity, dependent on various’ states COVID protocols – in California currently, it’s at 25% or 100 people per screen, whichever’s less – and getting closer to 50% capacity across the country is “an important factor,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. That may happen by the start of summer “as long as we stay on track and people get vaccinated.”
Dergarabedian thinks “there will be some growing pains at the beginning.” But if consumers are feeling more confident about going back to the movies, studios will feel more confident about releasing major projects, he says. “Bottom line is you need a lot of theaters open in order to offset the cost of a blockbuster, and that’s why they’ve been waiting on some of these movies over a year.”
It’s going to feel like the ’80s and ’90s all over again
Modern blockbusters usually mark the start of summer-movie season in late April, but like the 1990s, we’re back to Memorial Day being the kickoff with John Krasinski’s “Quiet Place” sequel. That movie will have a chance to stick around for audiences to see at their leisure until things get ramped up with “F9” a month later. Bock predicts this year will feel like the days of “Ghostbusters,” “Gremlins” and the original “Top Gun” in the ’80s, with hits that “played all summer long. There was competition, but not as much.”
And for these films to make money in limited-capacity theaters, Bock says, “they’re going to have to play more than three or four weeks. They’re going to have to play six to eight weeks to be successful, if not 10 to 12 weeks.”
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Streaming and VOD are here to stay
The successful-yet-controversial move of “Trolls World Tour” skipping theaters and debuting on video-on-demand last year due to the pandemic created a seismic shift in the industry. More straight-to-streaming releases followed, from “Mulan” to “Wonder Woman 1984.” Disney’s pivot this week to open “Black Widow” in theaters and on Disney+ the same day is also huge, creating an intriguing test of how many people will actually go to see a summer blockbuster in a theater vs. staying at home.
And while movie release dates might still play hop scotch as we get closer to summer, it might be more about jockeying for an ideal weekend or international play rather than something virus-related.
It’s still all about health, safety and personal preference
Adults and children returning to theaters can plan on masks, social distancing and COVID protocols along with trailers and popcorn. And for the next several weeks, the movie industry has to pay attention to the science, the chances for viral spikes and overall “how we’re doing as a society,” Bock says. “And if we’re good, we’re going to get a summer-movie season.”
No matter what movie’s playing, though, attendance is going to hinge on people’s personal feelings about sitting in a darkened theater with strangers again. “With any traumatic event, it takes time,” Bock says. “A lot of people probably won’t go back this year, no matter what happens. And Hollywood’s going to have to read the room.”