When Regal Pinnacle 18 reopens Friday for the first time in five months, the Knoxville, Tennessee, movie theater will welcome back guests with a brand new futuristic design with new food and drinks.
Regal Cinemas will open 189 of its theaters Aug. 21. Most won’t have Pinnacle’s multimillion-dollar renovation to excite customers to return after COVID-19 decimated the industry.
But Regal, the second largest movie theater company in the U.S., hopes a long-awaited theatrical release will be enough.
The chain will emphasize safety protocols, including a mask mandate for customers and employees. And will promote its premium screens, offering experience consumers can’t get from their living rooms.
“The biggest challenge is winning the hearts and minds of customers and winning the hearts and minds of studios,” Matt Eyre, Regal’s COO, told Knox News.
Regal reopening Friday: 5 things you need to know
‘Tenet’ will be the first test
In Knoxville, Regal Riviera Downtown will open Friday, while Cinebarre at West Town Mall and Downtown West theaters are scheduled to open Aug. 28.
About 300 of the company’s theaters will be reopened in time for the first major test — the Sept. 3 wide release of Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited “Tenet.” Advance tickets go on sale Friday for the film, which had been pushed back several times over the summer.
Eyre is hoping that, given the often-complex nature of Nolan’s films like “Inception,” moviegoers might need to watch the film twice to follow the plot.
The “Tenet” test is two-fold. Will customers return in time to make the film a box office success, and will studios respond to a success by releasing more product?
Theaters, Eyre said, need scheduled-for-fall blockbusters “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Black Widow,” “No Time to Die” and others to be released to draw audiences.
“If you’re a studio, you spent $200 million (making a movie) and you think, ‘Shall I leave it to next year or do it now?’ We need to prove that people can come and see it now, and we think people can,” Eyre said.
Regal, a subsidiary of Cineworld Group, has more than 7,200 screens in 549 theaters in 42 states.
For the theaters that open Friday, Eyre anticipates a trickle of audiences to return for Russell Crowe’s “Unhinged,” and smaller releases “Tulsa,” and “Words on Bathroom Walls.”
Guests eager to return to the big screen can also see classic films like “Back to the Future,” “Black Panther,” “Jaws,” and “The Goonies” for $5.
Regal theaters in Canada had a strong opening in August, Eyre said, which he hopes is an indicator for the U.S. market.
“(Hungary) had the worst opening in all of our territories in Eastern Europe,” Eyre said. But last week a Hungarian movie premiered to almost pre-pandemic box office receipts.
The Regal team will emphasize its “great differentiators” — premium movie experiences like IMAX, ScreenX and RPX — to encourage customers to leave the living room couch. Its 4DX screens, launched in 2019, immerse guests into the movie using moving seats, thumps, water spray, steam, scents and even ankle tickles.
“You can’t get that at home,” Eyre said. “You just can’t.”
Guests required to wear masks
Communicating the health and safety protocols in place will be paramount to growing audiences sizes.
“It’s been five months that we’ve been closed, and all of sudden we open our doors and we expect big crowds to come in here? It’s going to take a little time, and time for people to come in and say, ‘You know what that was a safe experience, I can tell my friends that was fine, that was safe,'” Eyre said.
Regal guests and employees will be required to wear masks at all times, except when eating and drinking in the auditoriums.
Regal Vice President of Communication Richard Grover said the company surveyed Crown Club members. “People want to have the mask on,” he said.
Theater capacity will be determined by local and state guidelines, but Eyre said most will be well below 50% capacity — guests can reserve tickets in every other row and the reservation software automatically blocks off seats between groups.
“The best thing we can do for our guests right now is be safe,” Eyre said. “Follow all the COVID practices, make sure that we’re creating a really nice, friendly, safe environment for customers to come to. They want to come, we know they want to come, but there’s been a fear obviously about all these people in one location.”
The Centers for Disease Control recommends consumers maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from people outside the household and to select seating based on maintaining that distance, including during times when there is eating and drinking.
Many theaters, including 120 in California and about 60 in New York, will remain closed for now. Eyre estimates about 90% of staff in theaters will be brought back to work as locations re-open. Regal furloughed more than 24,000 employees in mid-March.
Regal employees will undergo daily health screenings and will be required to wash their hands at least once per hour.
Concessions registers will be limited and will serve a reduced menu. Sit-down restaurants, in-theater dining and self-serve stations will be suspended, while bars will remain open for walk-up service. Where mandated, arcade games will be closed.
Between each showing, theaters will be disinfected using a commercial sanitation fogger.
Other movie industry battles continue
The new Regal lobby design emphasizes entertainment value before movies even start, online ordering for tickets and food, a new-to-U.S. smoothie concept called B-Fresh and a full-service bar.
The renovation of about a dozen theaters, a process that began before the pandemic hit the U.S., is a big-ticket investment in a year when the movie industry could lose up to $31 billion in revenue.
Cineworld’s share prices have fallen more than 78% this year; Cinemark’s by more than 64% and AMC’s more than 22%.
In addition to the direct loss of revenue, Regal is fighting other battles as the movie industry’s relationship with streaming services evolves, sped up by the pandemic and closed theaters.
This summer, Regal decried AMC Theatres’ deal with and Universal Studios to reduce the traditional theatrical release window to 17 days from 90 days, shortening the required amount of time a movie must show in theaters before moving to on-demand formats.
“People go to the movies three, four weeks after they start, not 17 days, which is what was being discussed,” Eyre said.
AMC will begin reopening 100 of its 634 locations on Aug. 20. Knoxville locations East Towne 10, Knoxville 16 and Windsor Square 7 are scheduled to open Sept. 3.
The 8,043-screen company is requiring guests and employees must wear masks except when eating or drinking in the auditoriums. It will not allow neck gaiters, open-chin bandannas or masks with vents. The chain will have $1 masks for sale.
AMC auditoriums will be limited to 30% capacity or less and guests are instructed to leave empty seats between groups.
Mandatory masks and empty seats: Here’s what to expect when movie theaters reopen
Cinemark, with 4,630 screens in 344 locations, will reduce seating capacities and stagger showtimes to limit overcrowding, and will require face masks be worn except when eating and drinking inside auditoriums. Its theaters will be opened in three waves.
Marcus Theatres will reopen over two-thirds of its 91 theaters by Sept. 3. Marcus which has about 1,110 screens in 91 locations nationwide, requires guests to wear masks except when eating and drinking
Email business reporter Brenna McDermott at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @_BrennaMcD.