Warner’s ‘Tenet’ Eyeing Second Major Weekend Box Office as AMC Re-Opens 70% of Domestic Screens

Following a surprise opening box office weekend (Aug. 26-30) of $53 million outside the United States and China, Warner Bros.’ Tenet got a boost Sept. 1 when AMC Theatres announced that 70% of domestic screens would be open for business this weekend — including screens in California. Regal Cinemas and Cinemark are re-opening screens as well in key markets.

The return of the domestic  and global box office is key to Hollywood returning to movie production and titles being released into retail channels, including transactional VOD and packaged media.

By this weekend AMC will have resumed operations at approximately 420 theatres nationwide. AMC will open more than 140 theaters this week, with the vast majority of re-openings taking place on Thursday, Sept. 3, the same day director Christopher Nolan’s Tenet opens in the United States.

The next day, Friday, Sept. 4, AMC expects its first California theaters to reopen, when it resumes operations at seven theaters in and around San Diego. AMC is closely monitoring all local directives and will follow all guidelines on auditorium capacity.

AMC expects to make announcements about additional markets in California, New Jersey and other areas of the country in the coming weeks, once theatres are authorized to open by state and local officials.

“The first two weekends of operations have exceeded our expectations in terms of guests returning to the movies and in terms of their feedback about our extensive ‘AMC Safe & Clean’ policies and procedures,” CEO Adam Aron said in a statement.

Regal to Now Begin Opening U.S. Theaters Aug. 21

Regal will begin opening its U.S. theatrical locations Aug. 21 “in response to the recent changes in the upcoming theatrical release schedule,” according to parent company Cineworld.

The theater chain had previously announced it would open July 10.

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, opening in the United States Sept. 3, will headline new films coming to the theaters such as Unhinged, Greenland and Broken Hearts Gallery, along with the film slate scheduled to release throughout the remainder of 2020, including Wonder Woman 1984Black WidowNo Time to DieSoul and The King’s Man, according to the company.

“Welcoming theatergoers back to our cinemas will be a celebration for not only our team and our industry, but most importantly for the fans who have been anxiously awaiting the year’s upcoming releases,” Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld, said in a statement. “With the health and safety of our staff, customers and communities as our top priority, we are happy to invite audiences to return to the timeless theatrical experience that we have all dearly missed.”

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Regal theaters will enforce previously announced health and safety measures that adhere to the latest CDC and public health guidelines, including sanitization procedures, new social distancing protocols, and mandatory mask policies for Regal employees and guests, according to a press release.

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“Regal will continue to monitor the situation closely and follow any changes to regulations or guidance from public health officials,” according to the press release.

For additional information, consumer can visit the mobile app or REGmovies.com.

Theater Group Sues New Jersey to Re-Open Screens

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), including AMC Theatres, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas, has filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy and Judith Persichilli, acting commissioner of health of New Jersey, for their legal mandates keeping movie theaters shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The suit, filed July 6 in U.S. District Court for the Court of New Jersey, alleges the state and Murphy are acting “unconstitutional and unlawful” by allowing certain businesses and places of public assembly to reopen, while requiring movie theatres to remain closed.

“COVID-19 represents a serious public health risk, and plaintiffs support fair and reasonable actions by the government to address that risk,” read the complaint. “However, the government-mandated total closure of movie theatres is neither fair nor reasonable, and is instead a violation of plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, equal protection of the laws, due process under the law, and is a ‘taking of property’ without just compensation.”

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NATO contends movie theaters have been unfairly shutout of the government-mandated business re-openings, which include churches, museums and libraries, which are allowed no more than 100 people or 25% of capacity.

“Shopping can be done outdoors or virtually … [but] shopping malls have been allowed to reopen,” read the complaint.

NATO claims there is no “rational basis” for the distinction Gov. Murphy has drawn between places of worship and movie theaters, both places of public assembly.

“In fact, many churches lacking a building of their own, or lacking the capability to safely host religious services during this period, hold their religious services in movie theatres,” NATO said.

The trade group said operators nationwide are spending millions of dollars incorporating sanitization protocols, ticketless admissions, no-contact concessions and air purifiers for planned re-opening by the end of the month. New Jersey is one of the few states that has not yet allowed theaters to re-open.

The suit seeks unspecified financial damages (besides legal fees), asking that NATO’s members be treated in the same manner as comparable entities under the governor’s orders, and be permitted to reopen as other comparable places of public assembly have been allowed to.

Regal Theaters to Reopen July 10

Cineworld, parent company of Regal, has announced the reopening of its theaters starting July 10.

“Regal will take all the necessary measures to keep customers and its team safe,” read a company press release. “Among other things, the seats in the auditoriums will be limited to allow social distancing, along with increased sanitization and cleaning.”

The phased reopening will consist of a majority of the circuit opening on July 10 with the remainder of theaters open on July 24. Consumers can view opening plans on the mobile app or online at REGmovies.com.

“Research shows how much people miss the cinemas. We are thrilled to be back,” said Mooky Greidinger, Cineworld CEO, in a statement. “With the great movies ahead including Mulan, Tenet, A Quiet Place Part II, Wonder Woman 1984, No Time to Die, Black Widow, Soul, Top Gun: Maverick and many more, we at Regal are committed as always to be the best place to watch a movie.”

Regal will offer a wide selection of classic movies based on feedback from moviegoers and studio partners, according to the release. The movies will be available at a discounted price of $5 for adults and $3 for children. In anticipation of the opening, guests who purchase $50 in Regal eCards June 19 through June 25, will receive a free $15 concessions promo eCard.

Through research conducted with members of the Regal Crown Club, an overwhelming 66% of the customers responded they were ready to come back without hesitation, according to the press release.

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Reopening plans include a range of new health and safety measures based on guidelines provided from the CDC and other public health organizations, according to the press release. Regal will also provide new contactless payment options and innovative sanitizing methods including:

  • Contactless payment. Along with the ability to purchase tickets in advance on the Regal mobile app, guests will now have the ability to purchase concession items from the app.
  • Ultra Low Volume (ULV) Foggers. Employees will sanitize every auditorium and seat after each movie using new electrostatic fogger equipment. This form of deep sanitization is highly effective in disinfecting all materials with a non-toxic formula that is fast drying, according to the press release.

Along with the above procedures, each theater will sanitize high-contact points on an increased schedule and use floor markers throughout the building to assist with social distancing.

NBCUniversal’s Jeff Shell: ‘Not Realistic’ to Ignore PVOD

After setting off an industry firestorm saying Universal Pictures would pursue a movie-release strategy combining theatrical and premium video-on-demand, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell doubled down on his previous comments to The Wall Street Journal after Universal Pictures animated feature film, Trolls World Tour, generated $100 million in PVOD sales.

Speaking April 29 on the Comcast fiscal call, Shell said PVOD would continue as a “complementary offer” to consumers when theaters re-open to the public — and consumers attend.

He said the Trolls had been primed and marketed for a March 20 theatrical bow, and when the coronavirus shut down theaters, going direct-to-consumer on April 10 with a “desperately” needed children’s title during the pandemic was the only option.

“The majority of our movies, whether we like it or not, are being consumed at home,” Shell said. “It’s not realistic to assume that we’re not going to change, that this part of the business isn’t going to change like all parts of the business are going to change.”

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The executive said it remains to be seen what the distribution model will look like post-COVID-19. While he expects a gradual return to the cineplex, which he said Universal would be part of, he also expects PVOD to be a part of the business model.

“[PVOD is] not a replacement,” Shell said. “We’re just going to have to see how long [a return to theatrical] takes and where it takes us.”

AMC Theatres, trade group National Association of Theatre Owners and Regal Cinemas have blasted Universal for pledging to bypass the traditional 90-day theatrical window. Both exhibitors have said they would not distribute any Universal — or other studio — title earmarked for simultaneous in-home digital release.

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With the exception of Georgia and Texas, movie theaters in most states remain shuttered due to the coronavirus. The industry and studios are projected to lose billions in box office revenue to the shutdowns.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh said future PVOD releases would be determined on a “title-by-title” basis.

Regal Owner Joins in Blasting Universal for Window Strategy

Regal theater chain owner Cineworld April 29 added its voice to criticism of Universal over its strategy to break traditional theatrical windows, boosted by the success of the studio’s premium VOD release of Trolls World Tour.

“We make it clear again that we will not be showing movies that fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us,” read the Cineworld release.

In its criticism, Cineworld followed AMC Theatres, which April 28 vowed not to show Universal films because of the studio’s stance. On the heels of Trolls World Tour generating upwards of $100 million from its premium video-on-demand release, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell April 28 told The Wall Street Journal the studio would pursue a simultaneous theatrical/home entertainment release strategy going forward.

“The results for Trolls World Tour exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell said. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

Like AMC, Cineworld reasserted its support for a window and scolded Universal.

“Cineworld and Regal’s policy with respect to the window is clear, well known in the industry and is part of our commercial deal with our movie suppliers,” read the press release. “We invest heavily in our cinemas across the globe and this allows the movie studios to provide customers all around the world the opportunity to watch movies in the best experience. There is no argument that the big screen is the best way to watch a movie. Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the COVID-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas. Universal’s move is completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency.”

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The press release noted that Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger approached Comcast chairman Brian Roberts on March 19, after the Trolls World Tour PVOD announcement, and told him: “Nice words from your team are worthless if we cannot trust you as a partner. The message that the media has portrayed is: ‘Hollywood breaks the window’ — well, this is not true! All our partners called us in a timely manner and told us that in the current situation they want to shorten the window for movies that were already released as cinemas are closing. Most importantly, they all reassured us that there will be no change to their window policy once the cinema business returned. Unfortunately I missed a similar message in Universal’s announcement… not only did Universal provide no commitment for the future window — but Universal was the ONLY studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released.”

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The release went on to say the company “was always open to showing any movie as long as the rules were kept and not changed by one-sided moves.”

“We have full confidence in the industry’s current business model,” the release read. “No one should forget that the theatrical side of this industry generated an all-time record income of $42 billion last year and the movie distributors’ share of this was about $20 billion.”

AMC Theatres Furloughs 600 Corporate Employees, Including CEO Adam Aron

Facing a disastrous business climate, AMC Theatres March 25 announced it was furloughing 600 employees at its corporate office in Leawood, Kan., including CEO Adam Aron.

The move is to save available cash, which the world’s largest movie exhibitor is hemorrhaging as its screens remain dark due to the global threat of the coronavirus.

“At this time, AMC is not terminating any of its corporate employees, however, we were forced under the circumstances to implement a furlough plan, which is absolutely necessary to preserve cash and to ensure that AMC can reopen our doors once this health crisis has dissipated,” AMC said in a statement.

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In a previous interview, Aron said AMC doesn’t want bailout money. Instead he said the chain wants loans that banks are unwilling to give due to the current uncertainty of the theatrical business model.

AMC rival Regal Cinemas, which operates more than 7,000 screens,  has reportedly furloughed about 90% of its workforce.

With a formal vote in the U.S. Senate ratifying a $2 trillion stimulus bill that would give families, small and large businesses, and some industries a fiscal lifeline still to come, AMC, Regal and other exhibitors have their backs to the wall trying to reduce overhead.

“The furlough plan calls for reduced working hours at reduced pay, or no working hours at no pay, for the hopefully short period of time when AMC’s theaters are all closed,” read the statement. “This action impacts every corporate AMC employee, including all those at the highest executive levels and including AMC’s chief executive officer.”

The National Association of Theater Owners, an industry trade/lobbying group, contends the theatrical business qualifies as a “distressed industry,” thus qualifying for federal assistance.

Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Fails First Vote in the Senate

A whirlwind weekend effort by Senate lawmakers to push through nearly $2 trillion in fiscal aid to businesses and people adversely affected by shutdowns in response to the coronavirus failed to garner the necessary 60 votes to close debate on the bill to send it to a vote.

The 47-47 vote March 22 on the $1.8 trillion stimulus package, which would create loans to small and large businesses, in addition to $3,000 in cash to families and expanded unemployment benefits, reportedly faced pushback by some Democrats who complained the fiscal package offered too much assistance to corporations compared with direct aid to citizens.

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Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell voted against the bill, a procedural maneuver that would allow him to ask for a re-vote at a later time. The bill voted on was described as a “shell” representing the concept of what the the final negotiated bill would off, presented to clear the procedural cloture vote to speed up the process of passing the final version once it is ready.

In addition, five Senate Republicans, including Rand Paul and Mitt Romney, were unable to vote due to self-quarantine. Paul earlier in the day announced he tested positive for the virus, the first senator to do so.

Senate Democrats were reportedly ready to move ahead with the bill until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded changes, indicating House Democrats would compose their own stimulus bill, a duplication of effort that could further complicate efforts to bring fiscal relief to American workers and businesses.

The impasse is a setback to movie theater operators who have pleaded for immediate loan funding to stave off possible bankruptcy. The world’s cineplexes remain shuttered, including all 1,000 AMC Theatres, including 11,000 screens, and Regal Cinemas’ 7,300 screens.

“We don’t have a penny of revenue coming in,” AMC CEO Adam Aron told CNN on March 20.

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Regal Cinemas Shuttering All Screens

Following a disastrous weekend box office as consumers worry about the growing coronavirus pandemic, Regal Cinemas on March 16 announced it would shutter all venues, beginning March 17. The nation’s second-largest exhibitor with 542 movie theaters and more than 7,000 screens said its operations would remain closed until further notice.

Rival AMC Theatres earlier today announced it would limit seating in its theaters to no more than 50 patrons per screening  through April 30.

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“Any time, at any Regal, it’s our goal to provide a safe and healthy environment for our employees and guests,” CEO Mooky Greidinger said in a media statement. “At this time, we have made the difficult decision to close our theatres. We value our movie-loving customers and have no doubt we will be serving them again as soon as possible with a full slate of Hollywood blockbusters. The Cineworld Group and Regal Theatres are strong, standing on solid ground and our continued goal is to be ‘The Best Place to Watch a Movie!'”

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Regal Cinemas Launches Subscription Ticket Service

As expected, Regal Cinemas July 28 unveiled a branded subscription plan — Regal Unlimited — exclusively available as a mobile app and starting at $18 a month.

Consumers can choose from three different plans based on theater location with the aforementioned Regal Unlimited plan available at more than 200 theaters.

The upgraded Regal Unlimited Plus plan ($21) is valid at more than 400 theaters, while the Regal Unlimited All Access pass ($23.50 per month) is good nationwide.

While the pricing is comparable to AMC Theatres Stubs A-List plans ($21.95 to $23.95), Regal’s service does not limit subs to three screenings weekly as does AMC.

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The new service comes as ticket subscription pioneer MoviePass has suspended service indefinitely as it grapples with a business model that is not aligned with an exhibitor and thus hemorrhages money.

Regal subscribers can watch as many standard format movies as they want. There are no blackout dates, and advance tickets can be acquired as soon as they go on sale.

For special formats, subs can upgrade their ticket to VIP, ScreenX, 4DX, Imax, RPX and 3D, by paying the usual standard upcharge.

Moviegoers who sign up for Regal Unlimited will be automatically enrolled in the Regal Crown Club program. Through the Regal Crown Club, members accumulate credits at the box office and concession stand to earn rewards, including free popcorn, soft drinks, movies and merchandise.

“This is the [subscription] program moviegoers have been craving,” Ken Thewes, chief marketing officer at Regal, said in a statement.

Regal Unlimited subs get a 10% concessions discount on all food and non-alcoholic beverages — as well as a free large popcorn and large drink on their birthday.

Along with all the Crown Club benefits, subs earn credits for every dollar spent, including the opportunity to attend advance screenings.

“Regal Unlimited is the best value option for movie fans,” said Kelly Hawkins, VP of loyalty at Regal.