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Can big-screen cinemas be saved?

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A worker wearing a face mask, gloves and party hat at stands next to a sign about face mask requirements a reopened AMC theatre in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in August.

A worker at a reopened AMC theater in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in August. Tom Cooper/Getty Images

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Movie theater chain AMC released its quarterly earnings report Monday, and as expected, it was brutal: Revenue is down 90% from this time last year, with reported losses over $900 million. 

But AMC Theatres has an unusual deal with Universal that might be pumping life into it. 

“We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight in the air. We shall defend our island,” said Adam Aron, AMC CEO and president, channeling Winston Churchill on Monday’s earnings call.

Unusual, but it’s been a rough time for theaters.

A few weeks ago, AMC rival Cineworld shut down its U.S. Regal theater locations, and now, there are rumors that AMC might be on the verge of bankruptcy. 

Neil Macker, an analyst at Morningstar, said with rising COVID-19 cases forcing blockbuster premieres into next year, there’s no clear solution for struggling theaters.

“They’re sort of in this weird middleman position where they don’t have a lot of control over when they can reopen and when they can generate revenue from those screens,” he said.

But a recent, historic deal with Universal may keep AMC afloat. The deal allows Universal to release films on demand as early as 17 days after they premiere on the big screen

In pre-pandemic times, it was months before you could watch a blockbuster at homeIn exchange for the quick transition from the silver screen to home screens, AMC gets an undisclosed cut. 

“When this deal was announced a few months ago, it was considered bad news for theatrical,” said Shawn Robbins, an analyst with Box Office Pro. “But I think that lacks the context of the fact that this is an empty market. So in a way, what was perceived to be bad news is actually a little bit of a saving grace for theaters.”

Movies like the animated film “The Croods: A New Age” about a family of cavemen will be released under this hybrid scheme Nov. 25.

So the $900 million question is, will the AMC-Universal deal be enough to keep AMC alive? Industry watchers say it’s not clear, but one thing is sure: The relationship between studios and theaters has been forever changed. 

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