Just weeks after AMC Theatres warned in a December SEC filing that its money would run out as early as this month, the world’s largest cinema chain announced Monday that it had raised almost $917 million in new funding since issuing that dire forecast. With AMC now saying that “imminent bankruptcy is completely off the table,” CEO Adam Aron believes going out to the movies will make a bold comeback this year.
“I have 917 million reasons to be a smiling man,” Aron tells Variety. He says it’s not just AMC’s nearly $1 billion windfall behind his optimism, but also President Biden’s promise to release 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in his first 100 days.
“What that means is that as we look ahead into summer and next fall, movies will get released again and consumers will go back to movie theaters again,” Aron said. “So as I look ahead, I’m quite optimistic and encouraged.”
Projecting further optimism, Aron predicts that the majority of Americans won’t necessarily have to be vaccinated to revive the theatergoing experience—or the rest of the economy:
“I think we will find out that the heath statistics in the United States will be much improved if even a third of the population is vaccinated. I do think we’re going to need to see substantial vaccination in the U.S., but not as much vaccination as has been brandished about publicly to see improvements in the U.S. economy and consumer behavior overall.
Asked if studios delaying the release of potential box office monsters like No Time to Die as many as three times, Aron said AMC “expected that April and May movies would move, as they are [being moved],” but emphasized again that, with mass vaccinations, “I think we will have a summer movie season. The second half of 2021 should be much brighter than the first half.”
Aron wasn’t, however, interested in exploring what might happen if even more tentpoles are put on hold, explaining, “On a day when we announced we raised $917 million, I’m less focused on trying to apply a crystal ball to the near-term future. This pandemic has been a wild ride. There have been a lot of tosses and turns. There will be more tosses and turns.”
Aron was also in too much of a good mood to address Warner Bros.’s decision to simultaneously release its entire 2021 slate of films directly to HBO Max as well as cinemas. In fact, he wouldn’t even confirm whether AMC will continue to show the studio’s movies.
“Our conversations with Warner Bros. are still fluid,” he told Variety. “We were the first major theater chain to sign on to Wonder Woman 1984. We were the first to respond in horror to their announcement about the entire 2021 film slate. We have to have more conversations with Warner Bros. about their 2021 movies. I’m not going to talk about Warner Bros. today, nor am I particularly worried about it today. Today is a day to celebrate that we raised $917 million to deal with this pandemic, not to worry about the state of play with Warner Bros.”
Despite the dearth of Americans willing to take a chance on theaters during the pandemic, Aron believes keeping AMC locations open was the right move.
“It costs us a little money to be open rather than shut, but we thought it was a very important statement that the largest theater operation in the world is open for business,” he said. “Admittedly, it did cost us some money to stay open, but that was an investment in our future.
Meanwhile, the other big theater chains are looking for their own means of survival.
Regal Cinemas, the country’s second largest chain behind AMC, is looking to mimic AMC’s deal with Universal, which shortens theatrical release windows while allowing movies to be released on streaming video on-demand within three weeks of their debut. Fellow exhibitors Cinemark Holdings and Cineplex have reached similar arrangements with studios, while Marcus Theatres is trying to stay afloat by offering “private cinemas” in some markets.
Sadly, if the film industry hopes that the government will help it see the summer, it best look elsewhere. Despite pleas from the likes of George Clooney that D.C. “should be subsidizing the theaters and keeping everybody afloat,” the $15 billion Congress allotted to help small entertainment venues in its latest stimulus package is earmarked for independent theaters, leaving the big chains to weather the storm on their own.