Do Movie Theaters Need to Do More to Get People Back in Seats?

Some experts say big promotions could get Angelenos back off their couches, but it just might take the right films

Regal, AMC, Cinemark, Landmark, some Cinépolis locations, and even Hollywood’s El Capitan and TCL Chinese Theatre are showing films in Los Angeles again at limited capacity (50 percent or 200 people to a screen, whichever is fewer, as per health department rules), but don’t expect free popcorn, complimentary cocktails, and all-you-can-eat candy. What they are offering is a bit less sexy. Cinemark is touting a new “Cinemark Standard” when it comes to cleaning procedures and an increased “fresh-air rate” for its HVAC system. While AMC offered 15-cent tickets on its initial U.S. relaunch day last August, it’s now back to regular pricing, though you can still rent out one of the company’s auditoriums for a private screening for a mere $99. TCL Chinese is giving $10 tours of its historic grounds and leaning hard on special events—notably a number of celebrity imprint ceremonies—to juice excitement. But experts say such measures might not compel Angelenos to abandon their couches.

“I just don’t think they’re doing enough,” says Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co., an entertainment research company. “Do something we can’t resist! ” He believes that the lack of big promotions may hurt theaters in the long run.

They are certainly in a vulnerable position. After over a year of being shuttered, the beloved local cinema chain ArcLight, as well as Pacific Theatres, announced in April that they would permanently close, saying they didn’t “have a viable way forward.” Meanwhile, smaller operations like the New Beverly Cinema, Aero, and Los Feliz 3 are gearing up for May, June, and July reopenings. The Lumiere Music Hall in Beverly Hills has done more than most, offering a small popcorn and small soda for $1—and advertising the meal deal on its marquee—to celebrate its reopening. The Alamo Drafthouse downtown is scheduled to come back May 28, with temperature checks and special events, including screenings with free toys and tchotchkes.

Ultimately, Bock says, it will have to be the movies themselves that draw people back. Tom & Jerry, which was released concurrently in theaters and on HBO Max on February 26, surprised by hauling in over $14 million in its opening weekend at the box office. Released March 31, also in theaters and on HBO Max, Godzilla vs. Kong has vastly exceeded expectations, raking in $400 million and counting. Hopes are cautiously high for A Quiet Place Part II, the John Krasinski-Emily Blunt horror flick out May 28, and the latest Fast & Furious installment, F9, out in late June.

“Pandemic or not,” Bock says, “the right film at the right time can just do cuckoo bucks.”

RELATED: Updated! Here’s When Your Favorite L.A. Movie Theaters Are Coming Back

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.