Movie Theaters Are Dead If Congress Doesn’t Bail Them Out

Movie theaters might face total bankruptcy if Congress doesn't help them out.

By Rick Gonzales | Updated

This article is more than 2 years old

movie theaters marquee

The National Independent Venue Association is a group of over 2,900 independent venues that reside in 50 states as well as Washington, D.C. They have come together in this bleak time to ask Congress for legislation that will ensure their survival. They claim to be 100% shut down, and at the moment they have zero revenue. Shut down will turn to closed for good if relief can’t be found.

To save movie theaters, two acts have been introduced to Congress. The first is the Restart Act. This act is led by Senators Todd Young (R-In) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) that is meant to address the shuttered businesses that have zero revenue, a high overhead, and no definite timeline as to when they may be able to open. What the Restart Act, in part, is asking for are finances that are equal to six months’ payroll, benefits, and operating costs. They want flexible use of the loan proceeds and a generous 7-year payback schedule.

The second act is the Save Our Stages Act, which is led by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). This bill already has significant support and is asking to, also in part, establish a $10 billion grant program for live venue operators, producers, promoters, and talent reps. So while these initial proposed Acts focused mainly on concert venues and the such, the head of National Association of Theatre Owners John Fithian reached out to the backers of the bill to see if they could also ride shotgun with these two acts, as movie chains find themselves in the same dire situation as those independent venues.

movie theater feature

Fithian told Variety, “We reached out to the bill’s backers a few weeks ago with a message: ‘Our movie theaters are in the same disastrous financial situation that your venues are in. Can we combine efforts?’ They said, ‘yeah, if you can round up the political will for it, come on board.’ We started meeting with Republicans and Democrats. It’s a very bipartisan bill. It’s got 52 co-sponsors in the Senate.”

To help promote the Save Out Stages Act, the National Independent Venue Association teamed up with YouTube and 35 artists for a 3-day virtual music festival, #SOFEST, in hopes to raise some much-needed funds to help shutter venues until a possible relief act was passed. Movie theater chains were not involved with this festival which included artists such as Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews, Little Big Town, Nathaniel Rateliff, Marshmello & Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Foo Fighters, and Reba McEntire.

As for Fithian and his efforts, he doesn’t beat around the bush. Things are bleak. “A significant percentage of our members — probably around 70% of our mid and small-sized members — will either confront bankruptcy reorganization or the likelihood of going out of business entirely by sometime in January. That’s assuming we don’t see a big uptick in business, but on our current trajectory things are looking very bad.”

closed movie theaters

Is there a word bleaker than bleak? Whatever that word would be is probably a better way to describe the situation, especially after Disney just announced it was pulling its two big movies from their December release schedule. Movie theaters were hoping that Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, and Death on the Nile, starring an all-star cast to include Kenneth Branagh, Armie Hammer, and Gal Gadot would be the movies that would bring in some desperately needed cash flow. That certainly is no longer in the cards with Disney likely moving those movies to 2021.

That leaves one big movie left on the dockets and movie theaters are hoping its December 25th release date will still hold. “Warner Bros. is trying to hold Wonder Woman 1984 to its release date on Dec. 25. That’s a very big picture. It’s extraordinarily important to us. All of the studios are trying to release movies in the coming months, but the virus is racing out of control,” Fithian said. But would Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman 1984 actually be enough to save the day, much less the year and the many theaters poised to shutter completely?

Fithian was hopeful. “That’s a concern. There are a bunch of movies in January, February, and March, but [No Time to Die] is the next biggie. If Wonder Woman sticks with its Christmas Day opening and people come out for that, we hope that other studios will move titles from later in 2021 into the first quarter. That’s certainly the hope. We need movies to get back into business.”

Gal Gadot Wonder Woman

But it’s not just the big-budget movies the theaters need in their venues. It’s also the large markets that the states hit hard by the coronavirus that need opening, like New York City and Los Angeles. Again, Fithian was hopeful when it came to New York. “Gov. Cuomo has opened 50 of 62 counties and now we just need New York City. The virus numbers are down in four out of five boroughs. It’s only Staten Island that still has problems. We are hopeful that New York City opens soon.” As for California, Gov. Newsom has already stated his terms in opening movie theaters and the like. While many counties across the state have slowly opened, its biggest market, the heart of the movie-making industry Los Angeles, remains shut down for the foreseeable future.

The push will continue. The push needs to continue. Not only for our movie theaters across the country but also for the many concert venues and establishments that are on the brink of ruin. Time is running out.