Texas governor Greg Abbott has partially lifted the veil on lockdown in his state, allowing select nonessential businesses to reopen in order to get the economy moving again. That includes movie theaters, which outside of drive-ins remain shuttered virtually from coast to coast, causing much speculation as to when that might end — and stirring drama between exhibitors and distributors, in the case of AMC and Regal vs. Universal.
With Texas allowed to reopen some nonessential businesses as of May 1, some exhibitors are battening the hatches to prepare for moviegoers, while others continue to wait out the storm. According to Variety, EVO Entertainment in Texas plans to open two locations on Monday, employing “airport security-style check-in,” CEO Mitchell Roberts said. Guests will be ferried through a cordoned area in the front door, asked whether anyone in their household had flu symptoms in the last 14 days, and finally be subjected to an infrared temperature screening. The theater will turn away anyone with a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees.
“I feel like it’s really important for our guests to come in and see what we’re doing to protect them,” Roberts told Variety. “The focus is on earning that customer confidence back.”
EVO will reopen locations in Schertz, outside San Antonio, and Kyle, outside Austin, starting Monday. With no new product to flood screens, the plan is to present classics like “The Goonies,” more recent fare like “Sonic the Hedgehog,” and local favorites such as “American Sniper.”
“We’re looking at positive, feel-good stuff,” Roberts said. “Everyone has the same programming mantra — classic films, good, popular stuff.”
Like EVO, Santikos Entertainment in San Antonio will also reopen theaters, and charge guests $5 a ticket at a discounted price (kids are $3). Concessions will also be $5 for large drinks and large popcorns, with no refills on either. Santikos, however, reportedly reopened three locations as of Saturday, with the chain screening Universal’s “Trolls World Tour and “The Hunt,” both of which are available on VOD for the cool price of $19.99. Also on the docket are “I Still Believe,” “The Invisible Man,” and “Bloodshot.”
“We’re operating more for psychological value than net income,” CEO Tim Handren told Variety. “That’s what theaters are for — an escape. We’re going to provide that escape.” One of the films screenings at Santikos locations is the 1997 Jennifer Lopez biopic “Selena,” and as of Friday, 20% of seats had already been sold.
As announced last week, theaters in Oklahoma are getting ready to reopen, though not quite as fast as in Texas. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s Open Up & Recover Safely Plan permits movie theaters to reopen, but that’s not likely to happen until June, according to Oklahoma City Museum of Art President and CEO Michael Anderson.
However, in Oklahoma, one theater is getting ready to rock, with Circle Cinema installing plexiglass screens throughout the Tulsa venue. “We made a lot of changes,” owner Clark Wiens told Variety in an interview. “We want to find all we can so you would not have to have physical contact with anything in the theater, beside setting your posterior in the seat.”
As for the concessions, Wiens said his theater will provide paper salt packets, and change the butter dispenser so nobody has to touch anything. Wiens expects to reopen the arthouse theater some time between May 15 and June 1. As for the movies the theater will screen, that remains to be seen.
“We are getting a title from Sony Pictures Classics,” he said. “I don’t know the name. It won’t be ‘La La Land’ or ‘The Shape of Water.’ It will be more marginal.”