Everything every movie theater on Earth has been doing to try and stave off “going dark” — the upselling of the experience, “reserved seating,” IMAX, RPX and other shake-the-seats sound gimmicks — was kicked right in the teeth by the global pandemic.
Regal Cinemas was slow-reopening after getting what was not so much an “all clear” from the CDC as a “well, let’s see what happens.” Having upgraded most of their locations pre-pandemic, with more room between seats, a fuller menu and a bar in every multiplex (543 theaters, some 7,000 screens), they’ve been my go-to-cinema when I have a choice in where a movie I’m seeing is screened.
But the Brits at Cineworld bought them out a while back, taking the Knoxville, Tennessee incorporated company deep into debt. Now, with summer being a blockbuster or two shy of survival, their stock price is taking a beating and they’re considering bankruptcy.
Let’s hope they come through it. My first fulltime newspaper job was in Knoxville, and I profiled the two former Food Lion managers who started their first cinema empire by re-opening a closed two screen theater outside of Knoxville. I watched them sell off that first chain and launch Regal and make it a movie empire.
Regals are by and large well run theaters, clean and comfy. AMC, America’s biggest chain, has been slower to renovate and they’ve been rewarded by young folks Gamestopping their stock. AMC shares are down 33% Monday, according to Twitter reports.
I dare say every cinema and cinema chain is facing the same pressures. One Pixar bust and Marvel underwhelmer, and the whole summer came back to bite Cineworld right in the ill-timed debt.