Small movie theater chains and independent cinemas were forced to make changes to survive the COVID-19 shutdown, but resilience and adaptability successfully helped the industry protect thousands of small businesses.
- 47% of U.S. screens belong to small regional movie chains and independent theaters.
- While the overall small business economy suffered a 33.7% hit, only 5% of movie theaters never reopened after the pandemic.
- Many theaters survived by shifting their business model, becoming community centers, screening classic films, disco nights, speed dating nights, workout sessions, broadcasting sports events, and renting rooms for private events.
- They even used their space to offer other entertainment options like arcades, bowling, and escape rooms.
Why It’s Important
COVID-19 severely affected small businesses. In a June 2021 interview with MSNBC, Vice President Kamala Harris claimed one-third of the small-business economy was destroyed by COVID-19, which Politifact confirmed to be 37.5%. The film industry took a notable hit, with the number of new releases slowing in 2020 and 2021, diminished ticket sales, and major theater chains struggling to stay afloat. Independent cinemas—being both small businesses and affected by audience trends—should have been the hardest hit. However, thousands of small theaters survived by focusing on the moviegoer experience, The Wrap reports.
This is set to become a comeback year for the film industry, with audience interest and large releases being comparable to the multi-billion dollar successes of 2019—Avengers Endgame, The Lion King, Frozen II, and Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. The recent mega-successes of The Super Mario Brothers Movie, Avatar: The Way Of Water. Jurassic World: Dominion, and Top Gun: Maverick has shown that audiences are eager to see movies again, and a larger slate of new movies offers plentiful opportunities.
The Wrap notes that this comeback story is even more optimistic for smaller theaters. While large movie chains like AMC have proven to be Wall Street poison, small theaters have had more latitude to operate amidst the pandemic and its aftermath. Many received grants and relief funds to assist through the lockdown and keep furloughed employees paid. These theaters struggled, but many proved resilient.
“I think one of our greatest advantages isn’t even our attractions but that we are a family-owned company that can be very nimble. When a big chain wants to make a major investment in its auditoriums or its concessions, they need to do a cost analysis and have a couple of quarterly board meetings to get buy-in from a large contingent of people. When we want to make changes to our theaters, we just get together the operations team at that location, and we can get it implemented within a month. And if we need to adjust based on customer feedback, we can do it just as fast,” Look Dine-In Cinemas CEO Brian Schultz tells The Wrap.