Movie theaters fear mass closures without federal funding


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly 70% of movie theaters could close permanently or be forced into bankruptcy by spring 2021, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) estimates.

The organization is pushing for federal relief through its #SaveYourCinema initiative.

“Without swift action from our representatives, our favorite theaters could close forever, depriving audiences of the magic of movies for years to come,” said NATO.

Until then, local movie theaters are resorting to their own creativity.

Tim League, the owner of the beloved Austin-based theater chain Alamo Drafthouse, has plans to auction off his personal, rare collection of movie posters in order to alleviate the financial burden of COVID-19.

“These next 4-6 months are critical, and the proceeds from this auction will help immensely,” League said in a statement.

League said all proceeds from the sale will go towards paying the theater chain’s staff and debts taken on from closures during the pandemic. The auction, to be held at, will run through Dec. 13 with an opening bid of $1.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sky Theater at the Belterra Shopping Center in Dripping Springs closed. The theater had high-hopes of opening up after Hays County lifted its order prohibiting gathering of more than 10 people — that day never came.

We had eagerly looked forward to the day when we could safely re-open Sky Cinemas. Sadly, that day will not come. With our business closed due to COVID and no revenue coming in, we were unable to pay our rent. We attempted to reach an arrangement with our landlord that would allow us to stay, but we failed to do so, and our lease was terminated,” the theater wrote in a May news release.

The theater immediately underwent rebranding to become EVO Cinemas. EVO Entertainment says it invested $1 million into the venue following Sky’s departure.

“On the flip side of that, you had a landlord that needed to make his money, and an operator who needed to pay it. This is a consequence that will continue if the funding act doesn’t pass,” said Mitch Roberts, EVO Entertainment CEO.

On top of dwindling customers, these movie venues are faced with few fresh box office showings.

“California, LA, New York and those surrounding areas are a major market for films,” said Roberts. “They’re still under mandatory closures, so it’s very hard to make a profitable film right now.”

Sky Theater and Alamo Drafthouse aren’t the only theaters who have struggled during COVID-19.

Flix Brewhouse, a small movie theater chain with locations in Texas, Arizona and the Midwest, is closing indefinitely according to CultureMap. The company’s Austin-area location is in Round Rock.

AMC Theaters warns it could run out of money by the end of the year too. AMC is allowing moviegoers to rent a theater for private screenings starting at $99.

The National Association of Theatres warns that if federal funding doesn’t come to the rescue, then nearly 150,000 jobs are at stake.

Nationally, it’s estimated that theater box office revenue will drop 65.5%, an estimated $15.5 billion. In October, Cineworld announced closures of all 563 of its U.S. Regal Cinemas. Other chains have taken blows over the earning period ending Sept. 30: AMC, the largest chain in the world, saw a nearly 91% drop, while Cinemark, the third largest, saw a 96% drop.

Safety protocols and cautious customers have both played a role in revenue damage, as have the loss of several blockbuster movies expected to turn big profits. Films like the newest James Bond installment, “No Time to Die,” in addition to Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman 1984,” — among others — cleared show schedules and, in turn, potential profits.

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