After ‘Tenet’ Stumbles and ‘Wonder Woman 2’ Moves, Movie Theaters Brace for Rough Fall
The ShowRoom Cinema in Asbury Park and the Beach Cinema in Bradley Beach got the greenlight to reopen at the end of August when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lifted restrictions on movie theaters. Mike Sodano, who owns both venues, says that even though he can turn on the marquee lights again after dimming them for roughly six months, he’s hesitant to start welcoming back customers.
“Movie theaters need three things to sustain themselves,” says Sodano. “They need profits, they need people and they need product. Well, this pandemic has affected all three.”
Sodano isn’t sure when he’ll begin making moves to reopen. The box office performance of Warner Bros.’ “Tenet,” the Christopher Nolan science-fiction epic that many exhibitors hoped would lure audiences back to cinemas during the coronavirus, has done little to assuage his anxiety. The film earned a meager $6.7 million in its second weekend, bringing its domestic haul to a disappointing $29.5 million.
“‘Tenet’ is a big movie, Christopher Nolan is a big director, and Warner Bros. is a big studio, but there’s one thing they can’t control, and that’s their audience,” says Sodano. “I know this is a marathon and not a sprint, but when you look at those numbers, it does not give me confidence that people are ready to come back to theaters.”
Studios seem to agree. Last week, Warner Bros. moved “Wonder Woman 1984” from Oct. 2 to Christmas, and Universal pushed “Candyman” from Oct. 16 to an undetermined time in 2021. That followed the decision by Disney’s 20th Century to delay “The King’s Man” from Sept. 18 to Feb. 26, 2021. On Sept. 14, STX added to the list of postponements, announcing it would release the Gerard Butler disaster film “Greenland” in the U.S. at some unspecified point in the fourth quarter instead of debuting it this month.
There’s also skepticism that Disney will go forward with its plans to release “Black Widow,” the upcoming Marvel movie, on Nov. 6, or the Pixar adventure “Soul” on Nov. 20, particularly if theaters aren’t allowed to come back online in Los Angeles and New York, where they remain shuttered. That means cinemas will have to gamble that “Tenet” remains enough of a draw that it can keep the box office humming until “No Time to Die,” the next James Bond adventure, opens on Nov. 20. In the meantime, exhibitors are begging studios to take a look at the films they’ve pushed into 2021 and reconsider launching them in October or late September, which are now largely devoid of big-budget releases.
It’s easy to understand the mounting panic among theater owners. In a business that cycles through blockbusters on an almost weekly basis, nearly two months is an eternity to go without a new crowd-pleaser.