Mass closings due to the coronavirus pandemic have hit theater owners particularly hard. After the release of several high-profile blockbuster films like Fast & Furious 9 and No Time to Die were delayed until later in the year (with F9 pushed all the way to 2021), movie theaters across the country have closed their doors indefinitely until the threat of the virus passes. And according to John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), they may never open back up again unless the government intervenes.
In an interview with Variety, Fithian stressed just how dire the situation is. “Overnight, we went from an industry that makes $15 billion a year — $11 billion in ticket sales and $4 billion in concessions — to one that is not going to make a penny for three or four months,” he said. He’s currently lobbying hard for the government to pass the coronavirus relief bill, a trillion-dollar piece of legislation that would keep business owners afloat for the next few months, including guaranteed loans and tax deferrals.
“Most of these theaters, not all of them, but most of them, will go bankrupt if this does not pass,” Fithian said. “If this goes through, it will provide a whole lot of help to industries that need it like restaurants and bars and bowling alleys and retailers.” Fithian is also hoping that the legislation will include provisions for the thousands of employees that have been laid off during the crisis. “We want the government to help workers directly so they can pay rent and buy groceries while this is going on, but we also need help to survive so we will be there on the other side with a job for them.”
Finally, Fithian is asking movie studios to continue delaying their major films and release them in theaters later, rather than going directly to VOD platforms. This past week, several current first-run films were made available on streaming, such as The Invisible Man and Pixar’s Onward, with other major titles seeing an early streaming release later this month. “We need studios to help us out,” he said. “We need their movies to be released theatrically later this year. We need to have something to play on our screens when we come back.”