Can Movies Still Make Money with Social Distancing in Theaters?

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Can Movies Still Make Money with Social Distancing in Theaters?

By Allyson Vannatta, Senior Writer

When theaters reopen, social distancing and checkered seating will affect the number of people in theaters. However, Hollywood execs believe movies can still be successful even with seating cuts.

Hollywood doesn’t normally comment on seating capacity at theaters. Yet, with Christopher Nolan’s TENET set to grace theaters on July 17 and Disney’s MULAN on July 24, executives say these movies could still see big numbers from the box office.

Paramount’s President of Domestic Distribution Chris Aronson says, “Even at reduced capacity because of social distancing, there would will be plenty of seats for the summer release schedule the way it is mapped out now.”

Aronson is also getting ready for Paramount’s release of THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN on August 7.

The Hollywood Reporter (THR) spoke to several box office sources who revealed that it isn’t unusual for theaters to see seats at 50 percent capacity on the weekends in the U.S. during normal circumstances.

Even President of the Walt Disney Company Bob Chapek says theater capacity usually sits at 25 percent during weekdays.

With over 40,000 theaters in the U.S., there could be 25 to 30 million seats ready for new Hollywood movies. That number grows to 79 to 90 million seats on the weekends, according to THR.

Even the biggest Hollywood blockbusters haven’t reached those numbers before.

AVENGERS: ENGAME is the closest title when it comes to comparing box office revenue and seating. Last spring, the movie filled 44 million seats when using the average ticket price of $9.16.

Ted Mundorff, who was recently named president and COO of Arclight Cinemas after running Landmark adds, “I’m happy to max out at any capacity we have to abide by. It means people want to come back to the movies. And 50 percent would be a very healthy crowd.”

Stay at home orders are lifting in multiple states in the U.S. and the theaters in those states will open soon.

Those theaters will more than likely be seating every other row, while keeping seats empty in between people.

“While the social distancing protocols that theaters will enact will most certainly limit an individual auditorium’s capacity in the early months of the relaunch, this will be more than offset by the sheer number of screens within a multiplex that can be devoted to what is expected to be initially a reduced inventory of brand new films,” says Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.

He adds, “Everyone understands that for any brick-and-mortar business, in the early days of a relaunch, reduced capacity will be a mandated way of life and not a reflection of a lack interest or enthusiasm for the businesses themselves, be it a restaurant, a bar or a movie theater.”

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