Movie theatres making a comeback with summer blockbusters on the way

Posted at 10:51 PM, Jun 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 23:56:06-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Movie theatres are roaring back to life with some box office hits, and people are ready to fill the seats.

“It’s a good experience because you get to enjoy it with other people in a big setting on a big screen,” said moviegoer Adrianna Milford.

After the COVID-19 crisis and a Hollywood hiatus on new releases forced all U.S. Regal theatres to close in October, the Regal Columbus cinema in Virginia Beach reopened two weeks ago on May 21.

The reopening brought moviegoers like Kate McCloskey, 12, back to the big screen after more than a year.

“I’m surprised and I’m happy,” said McCloskey. “We’ve been doing Hulu and Netflix and all the streaming apps.”

Major releases, such as "A Quiet Place Part II" reportedly brought in one of the highest weekend debuts over the Memorial Day holiday with $47,547,231.

“It was pretty good, actually,” Milford said. “The ending was kind of quick, though. That’s the only thing, but overall, it was a pretty good movie.”

The pandemic ravaged the movie industry, but economist Paul Ewell said that doesn’t mean it’ll be the end of the summertime tradition.

“I don't think the movie theater is going away,” said Ewell, who is an adjunct associate professor at ODU. “Some folks have said or suggested that the days of going into a theater are over. I'm not seeing it. I think people have been so cooped up because of COVID for over a year now, they want to get out. They want to get back into the theater, so I think they will recover. Whether they will recover at the level they were pre-COVID, I don't know.”

As vaccination rates increase, more people are expected to venture out to the movies.

“For movie theaters, prospects for recovery continue to improve as vaccinations increase in Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth,” said ODU Economics Professor Bob McNab. “Consumers are increasingly confident, and this translates into higher leisure and entertainment spending.”

One immediate struggle, according to experts, is finding enough workers.

“Certainly, the state of Virginia has been very generous during the COVID crunch, as has the federal government, so there is a significant amount of money, unemployment benefits coming out to folks,” said Ewell. “What I'm seeing - especially in retail - is if you're not paying $15 an hour, you're not going to find people, and I know that especially retailers are struggling to hire people at $15 an hour.”

McNab agreed.

“The immediate challenge right now is not convincing consumers that theaters are safe but finding sufficient workers,” he said. “While demand for workers increased rapidly last month, the labor force has not. The latest data shows that average wages have started to rise in response, meaning that theaters may have to increase prices to attract labor. It should also not be a surprise that teen labor force participation jumped rapidly as employers sought to attract new workers.”

As Hollywood releases more blockbusters, experts say the challenge will be competing with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max.

“I think it's going to be a struggle between movie makers and the movie theaters and the streaming companies; that's where the big battle is going to take place,” Ewell said.

20-year-old Milford said she might stick to streaming.

“I’m more of a streaming person,” she laughed. “I’m only doing this because it’s been closed for a while and I want to get out of the house, but I’m more of a streamer.”

Most would agree, however it’s hard to replace the theatre experience with your phone.

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