Focus Features has had a number one movie at the box office in back-to-back weekends for the first time ever; this would normally be fantastic news for a smaller film distributor. Unfortunately, the movie that clinched this was Kevin Costner’s newest drama “Let Him Go,” which grossed a paltry $4.1 million domestically. “Tenet” recently crossed $350 million, a total that it will likely remain steady unless the state of movie theaters changes drastically. This is well shy of the approximately $800 million that it was once predicted to gross, and even the $500 million that was predicted it needed to break even. Needless to say, the movie industry is struggling to stay afloat, with theater owners looking for any source they can to generate capital, as currently they are only bringing in a fraction of their former cash flow.
This is no exaggeration. Last quarter, AMC Theaters took in $119.5 million in revenue. That is a staggering 91% drop from the same quarter last year. Even the largest theater chain in the world can’t seem to get people to come to the theaters, which is why when news broke today that pharmaceutical company “Pfizer” was finding success with a vaccine that proved to be 90% effective, AMC’s stock increased by up to 50% in the wake of the announcement. Cinemark, too, saw its stock soar by 40%. Undoubtedly, this is good news for theater owners, their employees and movie-goers everywhere, right? NATO believes — no not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the National Association of Theater Owners — that it is a case of too little, too late.
John Fithian, president and CEO of NATO, made a plea to Congress on Monday that it needs to work quickly if there is to be any chance of saving the industry. “Without bipartisan action now in the lame duck session of Congress, hundreds of movie theaters will not make it," Fithian said. "Local communities across the nation are and will be permanently damaged.” With almost no new movies on the release slate and reduced theater capacity, there is not enough potential revenue to last until the vaccine is widely distributed, when it would be safe to return the theaters to normal operations.
NATO is asking for $15 billion in COVID-19 relief as a part of a proposal called “Save Our Stages.” This would be in the form of grants distributed to independent theaters. However, this may be easier said than done. With contentious Senate runoffs as well as President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the presidential election, Congress’ focus is likely not on the state of the movie industry. But in a time of record unemployment, it’s important to understand how many people this could affect. Beyond the movie theater being a cornerstone of American life, NATOtold Congress that more than 153,000 people are employed by theaters across the country.
There is a very real possibility that COVID-19 could kill the movie theater, but only if people let it. The lower-than-expected gross of “Tenet” is still impressive given the circumstances, and it shows that the public still desires the theater experience. The revelation of a potentially successful vaccine has given the markets faith in companies like AMC for the first time in a while. They just need the government to share that hope with them.