Movie theaters begin reopening
Film titles are beginning to fill marquees, a promising sign for cinephiles and Santa Barbara County’s local theaters. But with the emergence of online streaming services, theaters are struggling to fill seats.
Metropolitan Theatres, which runs seven cinemas in the county, is opening two of its locations. Camino Real Cinemas in Goleta welcomes moviegoers Friday, and Fiesta 5 Theatres in Santa Barbara will open its doors March 31.
Cinemark’s two movie theaters in Ventura and Oxnard opened over the weekend.
In central Santa Barbara County, family-owned Cal-Gran Theaters is keeping its indoor locations in Lompoc and Buellton closed.
“Once we go into the next tier, we’ll start evaluating and seeing what’s out there,” one of the Cal-Gran family members (who declined to publish first and last names) said. “We’re not going to open until we can hit 50% capacity and there is enough content to have people come.”
In addition to its four indoor theaters, Cal-Gran also owns two drive-in theaters, one in Santa Maria and the other in Madera.
Business at the drive-in theaters has been “hit or miss” with cooler weather.
“We’re not getting a lot of new movies out, and what does come out is being streamed. If you’re only getting one movie at a time and it’s being streamed on HBO Max or Disney+, it’s not enough,” the Cal-Gran manager said.
David Corwin, president of Metropolitan Theatres, has also missed out on ticket sales because of streaming services.
He’s excited about “Godzilla vs Kong,” which hits theaters March 31, but its production company Warner Brothers plans to release its films on HBO Max alongside theaters throughout 2021.
“It’s not like you open the doors and all of a sudden things change,” he said. “We need content to get people out, and there’s a good lineup coming, particularly starting in May.”
“Black Widow,” a Marvel film distributed by Disney, is slated to make its debut May 7.
Disney has not yet revealed whether “Black Widow” will release simultaneously on Disney+, but CEO Bob Chapek spoke favorably about the possibility in a Bloomberg interview Wednesday.
“We’re waiting to see how guests respond, perspective theater-goers respond to these reopenings, and we’re going to remain flexible,” he told Bloomberg. “We’ll make the call — probably at the last minute — in how these films come to market.”
Disney will be watching consumer behavior and seems to not have a set plan yet.
Another Disney flick “Cruella” is scheduled for a May release. Emma Stone stars as the villain from “101 Dalmations” for this PG-13 twist on the popular story.
“Cruella” launches May 28 if Disney stays the course.
Mr. Corwin also noted the impending releases of a third “The Conjuring” film, “In the Heights” and “Fast & Furious 9” in June.
“We’ll start to get rolling and hopefully there will be no more setbacks with opening and closing again,” he said.
He describes the reopening plan as “gradual” and will eventually open more theaters’ doors.
Currently, Metropolitan Theatres is restaffing its locations.
“We’re in the midst of beginning to get people back. And certainly, we lost people along the way,” he said. “We have a lot of staff that are excited to be coming back.”
Theaters will be serving concessions and offering no-contact ticket transactions through Metropolitan’s website, metrotheatres.com, and mobile app.
He follows COVID-19 precautions from CinemaSafe, the National Association of Theatre Owners’s reopening guidelines.
Every other row of seats are taped off inside theaters, and three seats are left in-between groups. Audiences must wear masks, unless actively eating or drinking.
Under red-tier guidelines, theaters can fill 25% of its seats. Mr. Corwin hopes counties move toward the orange tier.
“Because of L.A. being open and these significant summer films on the schedule, it does feel different this time,” he said.
Camino Real Cinemas and Fiesta 5 Theatres both opened in October but closed within weeks.
The private showing option was popular, allowing up to 20 people in a theater for a flat fee. People brought movies and held birthday parties, and Mr. Corwin considers the program a success.
Some locations also offered weekend snacks via food delivery apps like DoorDash.
“The theater really helps us escape the reality that we’ve been enduring for the past year,” Mr. Corwin said.
To check out upcoming showtimes, go to metrotheatres.com.