It has become painfully clear that the major forces within the film exhibition industry—which is to say, the theater chains, and the studios—are now engaged in an ever-escalating game of “chicken” with one another. Amid skyrocketing infection rates in the ongoing pandemic, there’s a huge desire to get these theaters open and return to “normal” business. The only problem? Nobody wants to be first, and inherit so much of the attention and blame that will no doubt follow.
This line of thinking has seen a procession of ever-moving release dates for various major films that pick a new date, claim they’ll stick to it, and then reschedule themselves once again. Most notably, the two would-be blockbusters that are meant to open the industry back up are Disney’s Mulan and Warner Bros./Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, but both have been moved multiple times, and neither company seems eager to test the waters of how prepared theaters are to deal with the reopening. Tenet has now been pushed to Aug. 12, while Mulan was pushed to Aug. 21.
Following suit is AMC Theatres, the world’s largest theater chain, which had intended to open 450 of its more than 600 U.S. theaters on July 15. Now it’s pushing that date to July 30, in line with the likewise pushed-back Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged. It does beg the question: What danger does AMC Theatres think that the July 15 date represents, that the July 30 date won’t represent? Regardless, the chain still plans to be more or less fully operational around the world by early August.
It’s impossible to be confident in AMC’s ability to keep its customers safe as it opens, especially given how frequently the company has amended its stated safety plans after having literally months to develop them. Earlier in June, the chain announced the procedures it would be following, which didn’t include mandatory facemasks for customers because CEO Adam Aron said that would involve the chain getting involved in a “political” issue. Less than 24 hours later, the company reversed course after widespread criticism and said it would in fact require masks, but how could a customer’s takeaway be anything other than the conclusion that AMC is woefully unprepared for the realities of what operating during coronavirus will entail? Who is going to attend a film at an AMC theater and feel safe?
“We continue to devote extraordinary resources into our plan to operate our theatres with a hyper commitment to the safety and health of our guests and associates,” said Aron in a statement.
One can only imagine what kind of delay-centric headline next week might bring.