Older Movies Likely to Play in Theaters When They Reopen

The spread of the coronavirus has brought Hollywood and the larger entertainment industry to a grinding halt. Studios have uprooted their slate of spring and summer movies completely, with some like Sony Pictures abandoning 2020 entirely. Even if the studios hadn't delayed most of their movies, they'd have nowhere to play them, as theaters around the country remain closed. Some states have announced they will let theaters begin to re-open in the near future, some as early as Monday, April 27, but the National Association of Theatre Owners says it's unlikely that many will be able to operate so soon with no new movie to show. In a statement, NATO also said that those that are able to open will likely be showing older movies over recent releases.

"While some states and localities are beginning to authorize the opening of movie theaters under certain conditions, the movie theater industry is also a national one," the association's statement today reads. "Until the majority of markets in the U.S. are open, and major markets in particular, new wide release movies are unlikely to be available. As a result, some theaters in some areas that are authorized to open may be able economically to reopen with repertory product; however, many theaters will not be able to feasibly open."

The business practice of a movie theater functioning as a revival house was almost non-existent before the coronavirus shutdown, with almost every theater in America and around the world focusing on playing first-run, brand new movies. Special events from the likes of Fathom and others allow for classics to return to theaters on a limited basis, but if movie theaters are to open when studios have no new movies planned for release then we could see a revival of the revival house. It seems likely that many theaters will find a lot of success in doing this despite film fans being able to watch the same movies from the comfort of their own homes.

There are lingering questions about the viability of this as a business plan moving forward, both in terms of the nation's recovery from coronavirus and beyond. First is the willingness of studios to allow theaters to book older films for extended runs (something that would probably be open to as a means of generating money), but some studios have no interest in dabbling in that practice at all. The Walt Disney Company famously doesn't allow their older movies to be played in theaters that also play first-run movies, an edict that not extends to the 20th Century Fox library of titles. In the end though, the bottom line is what matters so it might be a fair assumption to make that Disney would be interested in adding more numbers to the worldwide box office total of Avengers: Endgame if they could.

It was previously reported that theater operators are aiming to reopen their doors by late July, which will still allow for some semblance of a summer movie season. Currently the only films scheduled to arrive at that point are Christopher Nolan's Tenet and Disney's live-action Mulan. Should theaters open before those movies arrive though, they'll need to find movies to screen and luckily Hollywood has about...100 years worth of movies for them to choose from.


It was previously reported that when movie theaters re-opened in China they would be doing it with exclusively repertory programming including movies like a new 4K release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Theaters in China reportedly began to re-open for business on March 23 but just four days later the Chinese government ordered them closed once again, they have not re-opened since.

(Cover photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)