Theater Owners Chief Thinks It's A Big Mistake to Keep Delaying Tenet and Other Movies

At the current rate, the summer blockbuster season is hanging on by just a thread. Monday morning, Warner Brothers delayed Tenet indefinitely, removing Christopher Nolan blockbuster from its mid-August date, likely setting off a chain reaction that will see other August movies delayed as coronavirus numbers rise across the country. As one industry spokesperson puts it, studios will need to stick to their release dates for the theater industry to survive the perpetual shutdowns. John Fithian — head of the National Associaton of Theatre Owners — spoke with Variety shortly after news of the Tenet delay first broke, pleading with studios to release movies whenever possible.

"Distributors should stick with their dates and release their movies because there’s no guarantee that more markets will be open later this year," Fithian tells the Hollywood trade. "Until there’s a vaccine that’s widely available, there will not be 100% of the markets open. Because of that, films should be released in markets where it is safe and legal to release them and that’s about 85% of markets in the U.S. and even more globally."

The lobbyist adds, "They should release their movies and deal with this new normal. Studios may not make the same amount of money that they did before, but if they don’t start distributing films, there’s going to be a big hole in their balance sheets. This is a $42 billion-a year business. Most businesses would take 85% of that instead of zero, which will be what happens if they wait for all of the markets to open up."

Fithian also shares that he thinks the media has treated theaters unfairly, adding that most chains that are NATO members have gone to great lengths to make their auditoriums and seating areas as clean as possible. "I think the coverage has been mixed in its fairness. First of all, throughout all of this our biggest concern has been on the risk levels associated with going to theaters," he says.

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"We have demonstrated with science and by establishing careful protocols that people can come back to theaters safely. However, the media prefers to cover the more alarmist news about risk levels. They cite a Texas Medical Association chart that lists movie theaters as being riskier than airlines. That’s not based on science, and yet it’s getting play all over the place including in the New York Times and on national broadcast television. And when they cover the California shut down, they talk about movie theaters closing without acknowledging that 10 movie theaters were open in the entire state."

Theater chains like AMC and Cinemark both intended to open their locations beginning in the middle of July, though each chain has already delayed wide reopeningsto later dates.