Coronavirus Could Kill Hometown Movie Theatre’s in America

Worker taking down marquee of last movies shown at Evelyn Theater. - Photo Credit: R. Brady

Last Updated on March 19, 2020 – 9:19 PM CDT

The movie theatre business as a whole has been feeling the effects of streaming movie services for a few years now. Just in the last year, the industry faced new pressure from services like Disney+ and others. The new streaming service from Disney offers a full lineup of Disney owned titles and for a few bucks a month the entire family can have movie night every night without ever leaving home. That’s hard to beat.

Evelyn Theatre sits with a bare marquee after shutting doors due to Coronavirus. March 19, 2020 – Photo Credit: R. Brady

Walt Disney, and others, helped build the local movie theatre industry as we know it today. He worked with theatres to distribute his animated films to the public. The partnership allowed Disney to sort of “outsource” distribution. Disney could focus on creating great stories and let theatres handle the logistics of creating a place for locals to experience them for the first time.

1946 Opening night of the Evelyn Theatre in Dumas Texas.

Creative theatre business minds crafted the unique American movie theatre experience. Take the family out for popcorn, candy, and experience a movie viewing experience you can’t get at home. Every American has memories of the smell of fresh-popped popcorn, a candy bar, a soda, and holding the hand of someone special while you escape from reality for a few hours and live a dream.

The local theatre is more than a business. It’s an American icon! And people like Walt Disney helped to create the industry as we know it today.

The industry works around a unique partnership with movie companies and theaters. The movie company takes a percentage of the ticket sales, the theatre owner gets a smaller portion of ticket sales and can sell other items like food/beverage, and people have a memorable experience with family and friends. It was a good deal for everyone.

Then large movie companies began commanding a higher percentage of ticket sales leaving theatre owners only a few options to make up the difference. Charging more for concessions being their first option. Moviegoers complain of the high concession costs, demand cheaper tickets, and sneak in their own snacks and drinks. Creating a vicious cycle that has continued for years leaving theatre owners grasping for ideas to keep their business alive.

Just when local theatres thought it couldn’t get worse, the Coronavirus enters the world stage and delivers what could be the final blow for many theatres. Not only are owners faced with the historical challenges of operating their business. Now they are faced with the public health risks of crowded public spaces and a world pandemic. Many are having to shut the doors due to local and state health mandates. Others are holding out hope that this will end soon and their world will get back to some sense of normalcy.

Movie companies have shut down sets and pushing movie release dates out to the fall of 2020 and beyond. This leaves theatres with no movies to show even if they could find a way to create a safe environment for moviegoers.

To add insult to injury movie companies have now started streaming brand new movie releases, bypassing theatres altogether.

At this point, if a theatre is even legally allowed to be open, the only movies left for owners to show are movies that have already been released many weeks ago. Most of them are already available for rent or purchase.

Announcements are already being made of theatres shutting their doors all over America. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ordered theatres state-wide to close down for 30 days. Cinemark theatres announced today that all their theatres would be closed beginning March 18th with no re-opening date announced.

Large theatre chains will most likely survive the Coronavirus of 2020 but most small hometown theatres may never be brought back to life.

Can you remember the last movie you saw at the Evelyn Theatre in Dumas? It might be the last memory you have of a traditional hometown American theatre experience.