Timid restart for US cinemas amid Covid-19 pandemic

NEW YORK (AFP) – The United States had its first real weekend back at the movies with the reopening of theatre heavyweights AMC and Regal – but film fans made only a timid return in a country which continues to register more than 40,000 new cases of coronavirus a day.

Leading theatre operator AMC reopened 100 cinemas last week, and expects to open a further 300 within the next two weeks while Regal also opened its doors last Friday (Aug 21) but did not release figures.

AMC reopened 100 cinemas last week and expects to open a further 300 within the next two weeks.
AMC reopened 100 cinemas last week and expects to open a further 300 within the next two weeks.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The country’s third largest chain, Cinemark, had begun a gradual restart on Aug 14 and accelerated at the weekend.

Several major states, first and foremost California, New York and New Jersey, have nevertheless not yet authorised the reopening of cinemas and have not given a timetable.

During this first test weekend, the North American box office (Canada and the United States) passed the US$5 million (S$6.8 million) mark for the first time since March 15, taking $6.6 million, according to specialist site Box Office Mojo.

By comparison, in normal times, weekend ticket sales seldom fall below US$100 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

The first major production to attempt a release after a five-month hiatus was thriller Unhinged, starring Russell Crowe as a frustrated motorist who takes road rage to extremes.

Although it was almost the only one on screen, the feature had to make do with US$4 million in North American box office receipts for its second week of release, the first with a large number of theatres (1,823), according to Box Office Mojo.

Unhinged is the first film to gross over US$1 million in the US and Canada in a single weekend since March.

In a sign of film fans’ reluctance to return to a closed theatre, the specialist firm Exhibitor Relations noted that the top five sites in terms of ticket sales this weekend were all drive-ins, open-air cinemas where people stay in their vehicles during the screening.

Before the restart, the National Association of Theatre Owners published last Friday a health protocol covering 2,600 theatres and 30,000 screens.

It provides in particular for mandatory face masks, social distancing, except for people coming together, and a ventilation system in working order.

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