Movie theaters reopening but new films trickling out

The popcorn is popped and the doors have reopened at theaters in Los Angeles for the first weekend in a year, giving Hollywood some confidence that movie-going is bouncing back.

Major studios are still waiting to see just how eager people are to return to cinemas. The top movie last weekend was Walt Disney Co.’s “Raya and the Last Dragon,” an animated film that was released three weeks ago and is also available to at-home audiences for $30 on the Disney+ streaming service.

Still, a year after a near-total shutdown of the business, the industry is looking like it’s closer to a strong return. After Los Angeles theaters were allowed to open March 15, every major market in the United States is now back in business, and so far studios are sticking to their 2021 release dates. That will bring a major backlog of potential new blockbusters later in the year.

“With more movie theaters open and vaccinations helping to rebuild consumer confidence, studios have also shown signs of their renewed confidence,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Comscore Inc.

Theaters that have opened are limiting how many people they seat. In New York and Los Angeles, auditoriums are only allowed to reach 25% capacity. Some chains have yet to fully reopen, with the lack of new films and seating limits making it too expensive to operate some locations. Regal Theatres, the second-largest chain in the United States, is still temporarily closed.

Studios, meanwhile, remain wary of putting out big films without including a streaming option. The only new wide release last weekend was “The Courier,” a Cold War spy drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch from Roadside Attractions and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. The movie came in at No. 3, generating $2 million sales that exceeded Boxoffice Pro’s estimate of $1.85 million.

Updated: March 27, 2021 — 10:20 am

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