Los Angeles movie theaters reopen


Davis Marks/Chronicle

Outside AMC Century City 15, Los Angeles residents congregate before their movie viewings.

Davis Marks

Los Angeles (LA) movie theaters are again open following a year and a half of closure due to COVID-19. Despite the reopening, box office returns have still been down compared to previous years. According to Box Office Mojo, while box offices still haven’t reached pre-pandemic levels, trends are improving. The box office rate has risen with box office being down 73.6% from 2019 compared to 81.7% during the summer.

After a year of being shut down, theaters in LA reopened in March 2021 with mixed success. While there were some high earners, such as “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “A Quiet Place Part II,” “F9” and “Black Widow,” box office sales were still down 76.5% from 2019. This immense drop in ticket sales was, in part, a result of studios’ decisions to experiment with hybrid releases, in which their films were played in theaters but also available on their streaming services, as well as moviegoers’ reluctance to go to the theaters.

However, as vaccination rates rose and moviegoers across LA and the U.S. became more willing to go to theaters, studios became more confident and settled on theater-exclusive films.

Despite September not being a typical month for high earnings, “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” a theater-exclusive film, has reignited hope among studios for their films’ profit earnings. The film’s $94.4 million domestic gross in its first four days of release during Labor Day weekend smashed all-time records for Labor Day weekend by over $60 million – even while COVID-19 cases rose across LA and the U.S.

Samuel Hines ’24 saw “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and said it was refreshing to see a movie with a full audience.

“Getting to have a full movie experience again was great,” Hines said. “Every seat in the theater was full, the film looked amazing on the big screen and every laugh and reaction reminded me of how enjoyable it is to see movies in theaters after being unable to for so long.”

“Free Guy,” a smaller non-blockbuster film, surprised analysts with a $28 million opening weekend as cases of the Delta variant surged in mid-August – fueled by the film’s theater exclusivity and word-of-mouth positive reviews.

Theater enthusiasts like Oliver Wyman ’22, who worked at LA theater Cinelounge Outdoors Hollywood during the summer, are thrilled that theaters are full once again.

“I worked at an independent movie theater in Hollywood this summer called CineLounge, so I have a unique perspective on the reopening of movies,” Wyman said. “To me, there is nothing better than being at the theaters, sitting down in a dark room, disassociating from life as I prepare to enter a new world and become engulfed in movie magic.”

Visual Arts, ISIR and Performing Arts Teacher Ted Walch said he is thrilled to be able to watch movies in theaters as a moviegoing community again.

“I’m delighted that I can go back inside a darkened theater and see movies the way they are meant to be seen — in a roomful of people, most of whom are strangers, all eager to have an experience together, which is very different from watching a movie on your laptop,” Walch said. “As my Cinema Studies students know, the course is based on watching movies together. It’s a communal thing.”

Wyman said he believes that though theaters have been doing well and recent movies have been surpassing expectations, the experimental period of the first half of 2021 may change the way audiences watch movies.

“Some chain theaters are doing well with certain big box office booms, but the overall trend of physically buying a ticket and going out is negative in the broader spectrum of cinema,” Wyman said. “Day-and-date releases have created this loophole where the mass audience will most likely wait out the two-week period required for the film to be in theaters to stream it at home. As the way in which we consume movies drastically evolves and adapts to the viewer, hopefully, the future is bright and diverse with revolutionarily creative things to see.”