The Coronavirus pandemic, and the resultant economic fall-out, in which millions of Americans have lost their jobs and attempted to file for unemployment, hundreds of thousands of restaurants have closed their doors, and all economic activity is basically centered around essential goods and services like groceries and paying rent, has come for one of America’s greatest pastimes: going to the movie theatre.
That’s right. Apparently, AMC Theatres, which shut its doors on March 17, more than a month ago, due to the inherent risks in hundreds of people sitting in a room together, shoulder to shoulder, watching movies and eating popcorn. (But seriously, doesn’t that sound amazing?). Since then, AMC has furloughed 600 corporate workers, has likely laid off 25,000 theatre employees and has notified landlords of its AMC locations that it won’t be able to pay April rent as its cash reserves are running very low. Jokes about inflated prices of candy and sodas aside, it could mean that AMC files for bankruptcy pretty soon.
What It Means Right Now
According to MovieWeb, AMC is in talks with Weil, Gotshal & Manges, an international law firm, to attempt to file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. This would allow AMC to manage its whopping $4.9 billion in debt and attempt to re-open, clearing the way for a way to stay in business.
Chapter 11 may be a good way forward for the monolithic theatre chain to keep operating and stay open, which owns over 350 theatres across the country. But it’s also unclear what a path forward for movie theatres will be in a post-COVID-19 world. Many movie theatres are in malls, which are full of non-essential businesses and will likely not be the first type of location to re-open if and when we work through this pandemic, which could take as long as 18 months until a vaccine is developed and administered. It could be more than a year until a theatre reopens for business.
It also means that, for the time being, movie theatres are without their regular cash cows — Black Widow, Fast & Furious 9, and dozens of other blockbusters have pushed back their release dates to the winter season or 2021 to wait for theatres to be opened again. How this play out will be unclear. But it doesn’t look all that good for AMC.
Where Will We Go See Movies?
For the time being, we’re all confined to our couches, watching movies on Netflix, Disney+, and other streaming services. Some studios have taken to releasing their films straight to streaming to rent; when The Invisible Man came out a few weeks ago on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime, viewers paid $20 to rent the film. Other movies that are slated for release dates soon and might not be blockbusters like the Marvel movies will likely be released on streaming platforms as well.
When this all returns to normal, who knows what movie theatres will exist or what they will look like. In an ideal world, the independent movie theatre could have a resurgence, as they aren’t beholden to hundreds and thousands of rents or the payroll of dozens of thousands of workers, but it’s impossible to say.