Covid-19 & Cinemas: A Timeline of the First Six Months


  • Cinemas in China are ordered to close on the eve of the country’s Lunar New Year holiday, one of the busiest moviegoing periods of the year. 


  • Mobile World Conference, the world’s largest mobile phone convention, cancels its 2020 event intended to be held in Barcelona. It becomes the first major convention and trade show in 2020 to abandon its plans. 


  • Cinemas in northern Italy, which account for approximately 48 percent of the country’s screens, begin to close as the region becomes the first site outside of Asia to experience an outbreak of Covid-19 cases. The government orders the rest of the country’s cinemas to cease operations on March 8.   


  • No Time to Die, the latest entry in the James Bond franchise, becomes the first major studio release to be delayed due to Covid-19. The film, originally scheduled to premiere in London on March 31 before opening in the U.S. on April 10, is pushed back to November. Every other studio title on the schedule would follow suit in subsequent weeks, with some titles like Universal’s F9 (the ninth entry in The Fast & The Furious franchise) pushing their release by over a year to spring 2021.
Photo Credit: Nicola Dove© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


  • The city of Austin cancels South by Southwest, making it the first major film festival to be cancelled due to the escalating health crisis.


  • CinemaCon, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, cancels its 2020 edition. Earlier that day, news broke that Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, had contracted Covid-19 in Australia during the production of a film. Hours before NATO’s announcement, the NBA suspended the basketball season after one of its players tested positive. 


  • Cinemas in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Kosovo, Poland, and Romania suspend operations under government orders. Denmark’s cinemas close by mutual agreement on this date, ahead of government orders. 


  • AMC and Malco Theatres become the first major circuits in North America to announce restricted capacity measures, limiting admissions in each auditorium to 50 percent. By the end of the day, similar capacity measures are instituted in additional circuits and independent cinemas throughout the country. In New York City, where a cluster of cases begins to spread, art-houses and repertory theaters like Anthology Film Archives, Film at Lincoln Center, and Nitehawk Cinema announce a suspension to their programming.
Social distancing inside auditoriums through restricted capacity measures.
Photo courtesy Cinemark.


  • Cinemas in Belgium, France, Latvia, Norway, and Spain suspend operations under government orders. Cinemas in Germany begin closing by region, going completely dark by March 18. 
  • Alamo Drafthouse closes its New York City and Yonkers locations following news of an uptick in cases in the New York City region. 18 of the North American market’s top 25 circuits are confirmed to be operating under restricted capacity measures.
Image Courtesy of Star Cinema Grill


  • Covid-19 hits the domestic box office. Friday figures signal trouble as an initial sample of 22 holdover titles report a sharp 65 percent Friday-to-Friday drop. The weekend ends with a cumulative market total of $53.6 million, the lowest tally since September 2000. 
  • The Cannes Film Festival decides to abandon its original festival dates for 2020 in mid-May, one of only a handful of times the festival has been forced to adjust its dates. 


  • The mayors of New York City and Los Angeles, the highest-earning markets in the United States box office, order cinemas in their respective cities to close. By the end of the day, top circuits in North America such as AMC, Regal, Cineplex, Harkins, Showcase, Landmark Cinemas of Canada, Alamo Drafthouse, Bow Tie, and Caribbean Cinemas announce they will begin closing all their locations until further notice. 
  • Cinemas in Argentina suspend operations under government orders. 


  • The top five circuits in North America go dark as Cinemark and Marcus Theatres announce the temporary closure of their locations.
  • The top cinema circuits in Brazil begin to suspend operations. Over 90 percent of the country’s screens go dark by March 20. 


  • With movie theaters across the country closed, NATO urges Congress to move quickly on aid to help the approximately 150 thousand employees affected by the crisis. The trade association announces a $1 million donation from its reserve to aid cinema staff out of work due to the closures. 


  • Kino Lorber launches Kino Marquee, a “Virtual Theatrical” streaming service with a business model that shares revenue from Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) rentals with participating exhibitors. Within a week, over 150 theaters across the country embrace the concept as a means to continue programming and establish a new revenue stream during closures. The first title to launch under Kino Marquee is Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau, whose domestic theatrical run was interrupted by Covid-19.

“All of a sudden, our theatrical release was cut short barely after it began, coming into it with great momentum and a Critic’s Pick in The New York Times. The biggest concern was that all the theaters that we were dealing with suddenly shut their doors. We are very supportive of the independent art-house theaters that support what we do and thrive on what we do…indie art-house theaters are crucial to our business model. We tried to come up with a solution that could both rescue our particular release during this time and also create a revenue stream for the lost income for our partner theaters.”

– Richard Lorber, CEO, Kino Lorber
Sonia Braga in Bacurau. Photo by Victor Jucá.


  • Cinemas in the United Kingdom suspend operations under government orders, though most major circuits began suspending operations as early as March 17. 


  • CineEurope 2020, the convention of UNIC, the trade association for European cinemas, reschedules its annual convention in Barcelona from June to August.


  • Mexico’s two principal cinema chains––Cinépolis and Cinemex––suspend operations across all their locations in the country.


  • A bi-partisan deal passes in Congress to provide partial economic relief for cinemas affected by the crisis. 
  • Cinemas in Russia suspend operations under government order. 


  • CJ CGV, the leading circuit in South Korea, temporarily closes approximately a third of its locations in the country.
  • Toho, the largest exhibition circuit in Japan, begins to close locations in Tokyo and surrounding areas. 


  • NATO and the Will Rogers Pioneers Assistance Fund (PAF) partner to create an emergency fund for cinema workers affected by furloughs and layoffs during the pandemic. An initial $2.4 million is poured into the fund intended to provide financial assistance to movie theater employees facing economic hardship.


  • Cinemas begin to offer take-out concessions to help mitigate the financial fallout from closures. From popcorn curbside pick-up orders to dine-in theaters offering take-out and delivery services, cinemas engage patrons on social media channels to promote concessions orders. 
Image courtesy Cineplex


  • Lionsgate partners with Fandango and NATO to launch Lionsgate Live!, a weekly series on YouTube that livestreams top titles from the studio’s catalogue as part of a fundraising effort benefitting the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation. Held on Friday evenings over a span of four weeks, the campaign raises over $200 thousand during its run. 


  • CJ CGV, South Korea’s leading exhibition circuit, launches a trial of “contact-free” locations designed to minimize face-to-face interactions. The program features ticketing kiosks, encourages mobile purchases, and incorporates concessions pick-up lockers. 
Image courtesy CJ CGV
  • Only a month removed from closure announcements, the state of Georgia announces it will allow movie theaters to reopen beginning on April 27. 


  • IFC Films announces the creation of the Indie Theater Revival Project, making 200 of its catalogue titles available theatrically available for participating cinemas upon their return to business. 


  • CMX Cinemas, the eighth-largest circuit in North American, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and abandons its planned acquisition of Texas-based dine-in circuit Star Cinema Grill.


  • CJ CGV resumes operations in the locations it had closed in South Korea in late March. 



  • After abandoning plans for the theatrical release of Trolls World Tour in favor of a PVOD roll-out, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell boasts about the title’s success in home entertainment platforms to The Wall Street Journal. In the interview, the executive suggests future Universal titles will observe a similar simultaneous release model, therefore abandoning a theatrical exclusivity window. In a heated response, AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron rebukes the studio’s statements and vows to drop Universal titles from its circuit––the largest in North America––once it reopens. 


  • Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League steps down as the CEO of the Texas-based dine-in circuit. He is succeeded by Shelli Taylor, who becomes the first woman to head a Top 15 circuit in North America since February 2018. 


  • Texas-based circuits EVO and Santikos Entertainment become the first cinemas in the United States to lead the reopening effort. The circuits open their doors with revamped social distancing and sanitation guidelines, as well as a restricted admissions capacity per auditorium. 


  • With circuits in Texas beginning to reopen, Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas subsidiary Moviehouse & Eatery adopts an alternate strategy: opening its doors by appointment-only through heavily discounted private auditorium rentals. Other circuits adopt a similar practice, using private rentals as a “soft reopen” strategy. The concept finds success across the world––from independents like Atlanta’s Plaza Theater to circuits like Utah’s Megaplex Theatres, Sweden’s Svenska Bio, and Novo Cinemas in the United Arab Emirates.

“The intent isn’t to make money. The intent is to reconnect with our guests and offer them something special they might not normally be able to experience. Having guests in our theaters also allows our teams to implement our enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

– Annelise Holyoak, national director of marketing and communications, Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas


  • Alamo Drafthouse launches an in-house VOD platform, becoming the second major circuit in North America to establish a streaming presence. AMC Theatres had previously launched its own VOD channel in October 2019. 
  • Cinemas in Norway are permitted to reopen.


  • Texas-based cinema entertainment centers from Cinergy and dine-in chain Star Cinema Grill become the latest circuits to resume operations in the state.

MAY 12

  • CineEurope 2020 is cancelled outright after originally being rescheduled for August. UNIC’s annual convention becomes the first major exhibition conference to go digital with a live digital event celebrated on June 17 and 18.

MAY 15

Image courtesy Evo Entertainment
  • Cinemas in Germany are permitted to reopen, depending on regional statutes and restrictions, in a tiered reopening effort expected to finalize by June 30. 
  • Toho, Japan’s largest exhibition circuit, resumes operations at select locations throughout the country. 

MAY 18

MAY 21

  • Anticipation mounts on news of reopening dates for major circuits. The industry sets its sights on July 17 as the closest thing to a national reopening date, pinning its hopes on the Warner Bros. release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet as the first new major studio release following the closures. After weeks of doubts about its summer release, a new trailer for Tenet premieres on the online video game platform Fortnite. A crucial detail doesn’t go unnoticed: the new trailer doesn’t mention a release date. 
  • Cinemas in Denmark are permitted to reopen. 

MAY 25

  • Cinemas in Spain are allowed to resume operations in a tiered reopening effort by region, with those located inside shopping malls scheduled to start on June 8. Most cinemas in the country reopen by late June. 

MAY 28

  • Reading International begins its reopening effort in New Zealand, fully resuming operations in the country by June 4. The circuit sets reopening dates for its Australian locations beginning on June 11. 

MAY 29

  • The remaining NATO regional conventions on the schedule––Rocky Mountain, ShowSouth, CineShow, and Geneva––cancel their 2020 events. 


  • Belgium-based multinational circuit Kinepolis reopens all 18 of its cinemas in the Netherlands under restricted admissions capacity. Subsequent territories are scheduled to return in stages, beginning with Spain on June 5 and followed by Switzerland (June 6), Luxembourg (June 17), France (June 22), Spain (June 26), and Belgium (July 1). 
Image couresy Kinepolis. Photo Credit: Laurent Ghesquiere



  • In a Friday evening news dump, Warner Bros. reveals it will be moving Tenet from its original release date of July 17 to July 31. The move ignites a wave of schedule changes from major studios across the industry. Disney’s live-action Mulan becomes the next major studio release on the schedule, dated for July 24.
  • U.K.-based multinational circuit Cineworld abandons its planned acquisition of Cineplex, the largest cinema chain in Canada. The deal, originally announced in December 2019, would have made Cineworld the world’s largest cinema circuit with over 11,200 screens in markets that include the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom & Ireland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and Israel.


  • Cinemas in Italy are permitted to reopen.


  • Cineworld and its U.S. subsidiary, Regal Cinemas, announce a phased reopening effort scheduled to begin on July 10. Regal plans to have its fleet of theaters in the United States open by July 24. 


  • AMC Theatres announces a phased reopening of their U.S. cinemas, with most locations open by July 15. The circuit encounters strong public backlash around its decision to “strongly encourage” face masks in theaters in areas that don’t require them. Though the same policy is shared by most major circuits around the world, AMC’s stance becomes a national talking point around cinema reopening policies. The circuit revises the controversial policy a day later, requiring face masks for all patrons in the United States. 

“This announcement prompted an intense and immediate outcry from our customers, and it is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks. Accordingly, and with the full support of our scientific advisors, we are reversing course and are changing our guest mask policy. As we reopen theatres, we now will require that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theatres.”

Adam Aron, CEO, AMC Theatres
  • Utah’s Megaplex Theatres begins to resume operations with the first tier of openings across the state. 
Image courtesy Megaplex Theatres


  • Cinemark, Marcus Theatres, and Studio Movie Grill begin a tiered reopening effort for their respective locations. Original plans have Cinemark entering the final phase of reopenings on the weekend of July 10.


  • Cinemas in France are permitted to reopen. 
  • Showcase Cinemas, a subsidiary of National Amusements and part of the Viacom media empire, becomes the third major circuit to launch a VOD platform, ShowcaseNOW


  • Fandango, the leading digital ticketing aggregator in the United States, launches a comprehensive theater reopening program on its platform. Its initial offerings include detailed health and cleaning policies of more than 100 movie chains, seating maps broken down by social distancing requirements, and filter-based searches to help moviegoers locate which theaters near them are currently open, among other features. Digital ticketing and mobile concessions ordering are expected to become major features of the global reopening effort.  
Photo Credit: Fandango


  • An uptick of new Covid-19 cases in the United States pauses reopening efforts in several states. In response to the uptick in cases, the governor of New York removes cinemas from the list of approved businesses in the state’s phase 4 reopening plans despite its progress in overcoming its initial surge of cases. 
  • Another late evening press release from Warner Bros. signals further delays for Christoher Nolan’s Tenet. Originally intended as the title to begin welcoming audiences back to cinemas on July 17, the film is pushed back to an August 12 release. 
  • Omniplex Cinemas, the largest theater chain in Ireland, announces it will begin to resume operations on July 3 under a phased reopening effort. 


  • Cinemas begin their return in Canada with leading circuits Cineplex and Landmark opening select locations in Alberta. Both circuits plan to ramp up reopenings across the country through July 3. 


  • AMC Theatres pushes back its reopening in the United States. The circuit announces revised plans to open approximately 450 domestic locations on July 30 and approximately 150 remaining locations the following week. The circuit plans a full global reopening of its theaters across 14 countries by early August.
  • Cinemas in Greece are permitted to reopen.


  • Cineworld and its U.S. subsidiary, Regal Cinemas, along with Cinemark, delay their respective reopening dates. Cineworld and Regal, originally scheduled to open in the U.K. and U.S. on July 10, now plan to resume operations three weeks later, on July 31. Cinemark, which began its domestic reopening effort with select locations around Dallas on June 19, had planned to have all U.S. theaters by July 10. Under the new plan, additional Cinemark locations will instead open on July 24 with the remaining sites resuming operations in subsequent weeks. 
Image courtesy Cinemark