North American Theater Chains Respond to Coronavirus with Reduced Seating Capacity, Closures

Update, 3:35 P.M., March 19

Texas’s Santikos Entertainment is the latest chain to announce a temporary cessation of business. Says CEO Tim Handren in a statement, Santikos employees will “continue to receive pay for at least two weeks following our closing. Additionally, we are ensuring that medical benefits will remain in place for impacted employees at least through April.”

Update, 5:09 P.M., March 17

Effective tomorrow, March 18, Cinemark will be temporarily closing all its 345 theaters. The chain is temporarily pausing all of its subscription program memberships until the theaters reopen; all free movie credits will be rolled over.

With Cinemark’s announcement, the top six theater chains in North America are closing due to Coronavirus.

Update, 2:24 P.M., March 17

Marcus Theatres has become the latest North American cinema chain to announce temporary closure of their theaters. The chain, the fourth largest in North America with 91 locations across its Marcus Theatres and Movie Tavern dine-in brands, will have its last showtime at 8:30 tonight.

Says chairman, president, and CEO Rolando Rodriguez in a statement: “We’ve had many precautions in place that were guided by best practices from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state and local authorities. Now the guidance is clear that temporarily closing is the right thing to do. It’s important that we help our nation’s preventive efforts with this outbreak for the benefit of our guests, associates and the communities in which we do business…. When the timing is right, we look forward to welcoming back our guests to enjoy the social experience of moviegoing together – the way movies are meant to be seen.”

Update, 8:26 A.M., March 17

Over last night, several other North American theater chains announced closures, key among them AMC Theatres, which is closing all its locations for “for at least six to 12 weeks.” All A-List subscription memberships have been automatically paused and will not be charged.

Also closed are Harkins Theatres, Landmark Theatres, Alamo Drafthouse, Cineplex (including Rec Room and Playdium locations), Emagine Entertainment, and Landmark Cinemas of Canada.

Goodrich Quality Theatres has closed its Michigan locations.

Update, 6:52 P.M., March 16

Announced via Twitter, AMC is now giving members of its A-List subscription program the option to pause their membership.

Update, 6:25 P.M , March 16

Several chains have announced that they are closing in response to the Coronavirus.

Other chains, among them AMC, Alamo Drafthouse, Emagine Entertainment, and Studio Movie Grill, have closed select locations in compliance with government regulation.

Update, 11:52 A.M., March 16

In keeping with CDC recommendations, dine-in chain Studio Movie Grill is capping its theater capacity to a maximum of 50 in all of its auditoriums. Pe an official press release, the chain is adopting “Guest First Seating, 10 feet apart to a maximum of 50 seats in all its theaters.  The SMG team is vigilantly monitoring and activating quickly all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recommendations and will continue to reduce seating capacity nationwide and honor social distancing guidelines limiting the number of tickets sold in any auditorium.”

UPDATE, 10:31, March 16

Per a press release, AMC Theatres is implementing a “50/50 Policy” effective immediately. Under that policy, capacity in each auditorium will be limited to 50%—in keeping with last week’s announcement—and, in addition, will be capped at a maximum of 50 people. Notes the press release, “The CDC has recommended a limitation on gatherings to a maximum of 50 people, but that is not a legal requirement for businesses in most U.S. jurisdictions. AMC also is complying with all governmental mandates to close certain theatres, restaurants or bars as may be applicable.”

UPDATE, 9:49AM, March 16

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered that all movie theaters (among other venues) close starting Tuesday, March 17 at 9AM EST. On March 15, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered a similar closure of movie theaters and other large-capacity venues through at least March 31.

Counties within Pennsylvania and New Jersey implemented temporary theater bans over the weekend, affecting select AMC and Regal locations in addition to independents. Statements on individual websites for the affected Regal (“[This theater] will be closed for approximately two weeks due to local government requests related to area concerns about the coronavirus.“) and AMC (“We have temporarily closed this theatre in accordance with the directive from local authorities.“) locations indicate that government directives are being complied with.

Marcus Theatres, the fifth largest cinema chain in the North America, has limited ticket sales at all of its 91 (as of 1/1/2020) locations. Explains Marcus on its website: “All auditoriums will be limited to approximately 50% of normal capacity. Additional space will also be added between each pair of seats to provide a more comfortable social distance.”

Cinemark, the third largest cinema chain in North America with 344 locations (as of 1/1/20), has also begun operating at half-capacity. With the addition of Marcus and Cinemark, 21 of the top 25 chains in North America are operating at half-capacity.

UPDATE, 4.:22 PM ET, March 14

The impact of the Coronavirus is now being felt in the domestic box office, with steep declines in attendance nationwide. In North America, 18 of the market’s 25 largest chains have begun operating at half-capacity as of this writing:

(Screen and Location Counts as of 1/1/2020)

  • AMC Theatres, the top circuit in North America with over 8,000 screens across 634 locations.
  • Regal Cinemas, the second largest chain in North America and a subsidiary of the U.K.’s Cineworld, soon to be the market’s largest exhibition circuit. Regal operates 7,206 screens across 548 locations.
  • Cineplex, Canada’s leading circuit with 1,695 screens across 165 locations. Cineworld is expected to complete its acquisition of Cineplex in the coming months.
  • Harkins Theatres, the sixth largest circuit in the North American market with 515 screens across 34 locations, concentrated in the southwestern United States. Harkins has instituted reduced admissions at select locations while also lowering the price of popcorn and drinks at their concession stands.
  • B&B Theatres, one of the largest family owned-and-operated circuits in the world and the seventh largest in North America, operating 418 screens across 48 locations.
  • Malco Theatres, the ninth largest circuit in the domestic market with 363 screens and 35 locations.
  • Showcase Cinemas, part of multi-national circuit National Amusements, which has also instituted limited capacity screenings in its U.K. cinemas. Showcase operates 367 screens across 27 locations.
  • Studio Movie Grill, the largest dine-in circuit in North America with 353 screens across 34 locations.
  • Caribbean Cinemas, the leading circuit in the Caribbean which operates 295 screens within U.S. territories. Caribbean Cinemas is the #15 circuit by screen size in the domestic market.
  • Southern Theatres, which operates cinemas under the Grand Theatres and AmStar Cinemas banner. Southern is the #17 circuit in the North American market with 266 screens across 18 locations.
  • Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas, the U.S. subsidiary of mutli-national giant Cinépolis, is implementing half capacity screenings at select locations. Cinépolis operates 263 screens across 28 locations in the United States.
  • Emagine Entertainment, which operates 254 screens across 21 locations in the Midwest. Emagine was one of the first U.S. circuits to institute half-capacity screenings throughout its circuit. It is the 21st largest cinema chain in the domestic market.
  • Landmark Theatres, the largest movie theater chain in the market specializing in independent cinema with 251 screens across 51 locations. The 22nd largest circuit in North America by screen count.
  • Bow Tie Cinemas, the #25 circuit in the domestic market with 220 screens across 32 locations.

UPDATE, 12:06 PM March 14

Alamo Drafthouse’s two New York State locations, in Brooklyn and Yonkers, are closed “until further notice.” Members of Alamo’s subscription service in those markets have had their accounts (along with billing) paused.

UPDATE, 9:41ET March 13

Several other chains have announced measures designed to promote social distancing in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Among them are Studio Movie Grill, which is limiting the number of tickets sold in any one auditorium to 150; Emagine Entertainment, which is limiting its ticket sales to 50 percent or a maximum of 100 guests per auditorium; CMX Cinemas, reducing their capacity by fifty percent; and B&B Theatres, doing the same.

Landmark Cinemas of Canada, Canada’s second largest theater chain, has decreased the number of “maximum guests per auditorium by approximately half.” Landmark Theatres is going the 50 percent route, as are Cinemás Guzzo (to a maximum of 200 patrons per auditorium) and Caribbean Cinemas. Classic Cinemas is limiting capacity-per-auditorium to 60 percent. Megaplex Theatres is limiting capacity at each theater at 75 seats. Cinema West and ArcLight Cinemas have adopted limiting seating.

More news will be added to this post as it is confirmed by Boxoffice Pro.

UPDATE, 3:55ET March 14

In a statement, Santikos Entertainment has just announced a similar plan to combat the spread of Coronavirus as that laid out by AMC and Malco. The chain, which operates nine theaters throughout Texas, will be “blocking out alternating seats, allowing you to continue enjoying the movies with a little extra distance between you and your neighbor” starting tomorrow, March 14.

AMC Theatres and Malco Theatres have become the first domestic chains to cut seating capacity in a move to slow the spread of the Coronavirus in the United States.

Per a press release issued today, AMC notes that they will “cut in half the seating capacity of every one of its theatre’s auditoriums,” starting Saturday, March 14 and continuing until April 30. For auditoriums with a seating capacity of more than 500 seats, ticket sales will be capped to a maximum of 250.

Says AMC president and CEO Adam Aron in a statement:

“The health and safety of our guests and theatre teams are of the utmost importance to AMC. Therefore, AMC is proactively taking action to cut in half the number of tickets that we will make available at all our U.S. theatres. With this action, we are facilitating the ‘social distance’ between guests who still want to see movies on a big screen.”

“These are uncharted times in the United States. We are very closely monitoring the guidance of the CDC. We are complying with all directives from federal, state and local health and government authorities, and with our unilateral move to reduce capacity and increase social distancing we are going beyond what governments are requiring of us.”

Also limiting its ticket sales by 50% is Tennesse-based Malco Theatres, the ninth biggest exhibitor in North America, which operates 35 locations across the U.S.. At all those locations, per VP and director of marketing Karen Melton, “We will be limiting the seating in each auditorium to a maximum of 50% of its capacity. This seating arrangement reduces crowded auditoriums, allowing for guests to practice healthy social distancing.”

Both chains, in their respective statements, clarified additional measures designed to combat the spread of Coronavirus, including an increased cleaning rota, with particular attention paid to high-touch areas (kiosks, handrails, bathrooms, etc.), and encouraging guests and employees to stay home if they feel sick.

AMC and Malco are the first U.S. chains to limit ticket sales in response to the Coronavirus. New York City’s Nitehawk Cinema, Film at Lincoln Center, and Anthology Film Archives have suspended programming temporarily in response to the pandemic. Other U.S.-based chains have released statements detailing increased sanitation measures. Yesterday saw Texas-based circuit Alamo Drafthouse, in a statement of their own, clarify that it will give paid sick leave to those affected by the virus. Alamo will also follow city and state requests regarding restricted theater capacity, though they have not yet specified which markets may be affected. Independent theaters Film Forum (New York City), Music Box Theatre (Chicago), and the Hollywood Theatre (Portland) have also begun limiting their theater capacities.

Up until this point, North America box office has not been affected in an appreciable way by the Coronavirus, with The Invisible Man and Onward performing to expectations. Studio estimates for Bloodshot, out this weekend, are in line with our earlier forecast, though a subsequent reduction in available tickets at North America’s biggest theater chain is likely to have an effect on those numbers.

In limiting their theater capacity, Malco and AMC follow a precedent set by some French cinemas as well Ireland’s leading chain, Omniplex. In those countries, a 50 percent limit on ticket sales was set earlier this week in order to increase the distance between customers. Other international markets have been shut down entirely; for a worldwide update on how the Coronavirus is affecting theatrical market, you can follow our Coronavirus coverage, updated daily.