COVID-19

For $100, you can get a movie theater for just you and your quarantine pod

Jasmine Garsd Oct 29, 2020
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Moviegoers watch a film at a reopened AMC theater in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in August. While theaters are reopening, dragging box office numbers are spooking studios. Tom Cooper/Getty Images
COVID-19

For $100, you can get a movie theater for just you and your quarantine pod

Jasmine Garsd Oct 29, 2020
Heard on:
Moviegoers watch a film at a reopened AMC theater in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in August. While theaters are reopening, dragging box office numbers are spooking studios. Tom Cooper/Getty Images
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Earlier this month, Regal Cinemas closed down all of its theaters, temporarily, it says, because of lockdowns and people skittish about going to the movies. Other chains, however, are trying everything they can to get those people in the door.

Kari Larson used to love going to the movies.

“We go two to three times a month, easily,” Larson said.

She lives outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota and misses the escape. So she was pretty excited when she found out out her local AMC was offering to rent out theaters to private parties.

“It was actually probably ridiculous how excited I was when I walked into the theater,” she said.

Theater chains like AMC, Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema are renting out entire screens to a few dozen guests. The prices vary: Classics go for as little as $100, but watching “Tenet” with your pod can cost up to $350.

It’s a strategy national chains are turning to as most major movies are getting postponed.

“Without major new product to kind of build that momentum, it’s hard for a lot of theater owners to get back on their feet as quickly as hoped,” said Shawn Robbins, an analyst with Boxoffice Pro.

It also helps that you can control who’s sitting next to you. The idea of going to the movies with a bunch of strangers might give you the jitters. But sitting next to people you know have been taking precautions? To Larson, that felt a lot safer, “because I knew it was private, and I knew it was just whoever was in our bubble,” she said.

She went with seven people, friends and family. And for $99 they watched “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” It coincided with her daughter’s 10th birthday.

“Those birthdays always cost between $200 and $300, and so this actually felt like a bargain,” Larson said with a laugh.

About one-third of Alamo Drafthouse’s revenue right now is coming from private rentals, according to Kristen Wheaton, the company’s vice president of venue experience.

“It’s been a real glimmer of hope for us,” Wheaton said. “We’re booking hundreds of events each week.”

AMC and Cinemark did not respond to interview requests.

Professor Arun Sharma, who teaches marketing at the University of Miami, said these rentals are a creative temporary relief, but not a rescue.

“The things that’ll take theaters through has to be the opening of theaters, which is happening now,” Sharma said. “But more importantly, the release of really big blockbuster movies.”

He said that until the next batch of new superheroes and villains debut on the big screen, it’ll be hard times for theaters.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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