After three months of near total blackout of cinemas nationwide, movie theaters are preparing to reopen—even if it means only a few titles on the marquee and showings limited to as little as 25% capacity. AMC Theaters, the world's largest theater operator, said Tuesday that it expects to have 97%-98% of its theaters worldwide reopened by mid-July. The National Association of Theater Owners, the trade group that represents exhibitors, expects some 90%-95% of cinemas around the world will be opened by mid-July, the AP reports. A lot is still “fluid,” as AMC Entertainment’s chief executive, Adam Aron, said in a call Tuesday with investors. But provided flare ups of the coronavirus don’t unmake plans, the industry is gearing up for a dramatic resumption of widespread business just in time for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. The Warner Bros. thriller, the latest from arguably Hollywood’s most passionate defender of the big-screen experience, is slated for release July 17.
The larger question might be whether moviegoers feel safe returning to theaters. Health officials have warned that large indoor gatherings are risky. Broadway theaters will remain dark through at least early September. It will be up to movie theater operators to convince moviegoers that it’s safe to once again sit in the dark among strangers. Only recently have state guidelines allowed the reopening of theaters in California; in New York City, open cinemas come in phase four of its reopening schedule and it just began phase one on Monday. Theaters have slowly been reopening in other areas of the country, while a renaissance of drive-ins has flourished. But AMC’s announcement Tuesday signaled the most ambitious and widespread plan for a resumption of business. Like other chains, it expects to limit audience sizes to facilitate social distancing, including keeping cinemas 25%-50% full and blocking out seats. Cinemas will be regularly cleaned, and ordering concessions will be possible from an app. (Read more coronavirus stories.)