Movie theaters are back—but moviegoers don’t appear to have returned along with them, in any great number.
America’s major theater chains began reopening in August, with many more opening in time for Labor Day, when Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” was released theatrically. On Wednesday, AMC Theaters announced another round of reopening in California and Michigan, which means 80% of the chain’s U.S. theaters will be open by the second week in October.
However, just because the theaters are opening doesn’t mean moviegoers feel safe about returning. The theatrical box office has been paltry ever since the reopening began, with “Tenet” leading the box office last week with the low sum of $3.4 million, per Box Office Mojo. The Hollywood studios have responded by pushing most of the year’s major movie releases, including Disney’s “Black Widow,” into 2021.
As a result, a coalition of prominent people and groups associated with the motion picture industry, including actors, directors, producers and the umbrella organizations of the motion picture and theatrical exhibition industries, have written a letter to the leaders of Congress, asking for help. And the letter states that without such help, the industry faces doom.
“Cinemas are an essential industry that represent the best that American talent and creativity have to offer. But now we fear for their future,” the letter states, per The Hollywood Reporter. “Our country cannot afford to lose the social, economic, and cultural value that theaters provide. The moviegoing experience is central to American life. Theaters are great unifiers where our nation’s most talented storytellers showcase their cinematic accomplishments.”
The letter also warns that as many as 69% of small- and medium-sized movie theaters could go under, in the absence of government aid.
The letter was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Congress, per CNN, is currently in talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about a new coronavirus aid package, and any help for the movie exhibition industry would likely need to come from such a package.
Those signing the letter include directors Wes Anderson, Judd Apatow, Noah Baumbach, Michael Bay, James Cameron, Sofia Coppola, Alfonso Cuarón, Clint Eastwood, Catherine Hardwicke, Barry Jenkins, Rian Johnson, Richard Linklater, Adam McKay, Jordan Peele, Martin Scorsese, M. Night Shyamalan, and dozens more. Also signing are actor Seth Rogen, James Bond series producer Barbara Broccoli, and the organizations the National Association of Theatre Owners, the Directors Guild of America and the Motion Picture Association.
One thing is notable about the letter: The position the industry has taken is to campaign for the government to help out movie theaters, and not to attempt to persuade moviegoers to support theaters by returning to them.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.