Why Exhibitors Like AMC & Cinemark Are Reopening In San Francisco Despite Concessions Ban

Despite the firm response earlier this month from the National Association of Theatre Owners of California/Nevada to not reopen cinemas in San Francisco county given its concession ban, major circuits like Cinemark and AMC have taken an about face this week.

Now opening a movie theater without the means of selling popcorn and soda is a money losing proposition, so why would AMC, which is teetering on bankruptcy, and Cinemark, even attempt to do so?

Several sources tell me that the decision for the No. 1 and No. 3 major exhibitor to reopen stems from them wanting to prove to major studios that they can reopen the No. 3 box office market in the United States. Surrounding counties Alameda and Santa Clara during pre-pandemic times repped 2% of the domestic box office. All studios care about are screen counts, and Warner Bros. has been eager to reopen San Francisco for Tenet, the city being traditionally a big B.O. market for Christopher Nolan’s movies. Another upside, is that San Francisco is in the California COVID-19 yellow tier, which means that theaters can operate auditoriums at a 50% capacity.

The other reason why exhibition is braving San Francisco sans concessions is because the only way to prove to local health officials that you can sell food and drink, is to show them that you can reopen safely and follow proper protocols during the pandemic. The optimistic attitude is that in short time, local health officials will come around. This has been the case in Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, all of which banned concessions for about a month during cinemas reopening. However, effective this Friday, Chicago is suspending indoor dining and bar service as the Windy City has seen a rise in hospitalizations and positivity rates. This will certainly impact dine-in service theaters, however, cinemas haven’t been forced to close yet.

AMC announced yesterday that they’re reopening in Northern California and the Greater Bay area their Bay Street 16, Eastridge 15, Kabuki 8, Mercado 20, NewPark 12, Saratoga 14, Sunnyvale 12 locations and their signature Bay City locale the Metreon 15 this Friday. By this weekend, 540 of AMC’s 600 locations in the U.S. will have reopened.

As Deadline reported earlier this week, Cinemark is reopening the Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD and locations in Santa Clara County on Oct. 30. Five of the circuit’s Alameda locations reopened yesterday. In total by this weekend, Cinemark will have upped its California count by ten sites. Roughly 85% of the circuit has reopened.

Elsewhere today, Warner Bros. Chair-CEO Ann Sarnoff said at Variety’s Power of Women Conversations that Wonder Woman 1984 is currently sticking to its Dec. 25 release date. Exhibition is greatly worried that the movie won’t hit its opening date given the fact that Los Angeles and NYC haven’t reopened cinemas yet, and countries like France, Italy, Germany, and the UK are closing down. If Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t happen, so goes the holiday theatrical release schedule.

“It really is about how the U.S. continues to open, and whether there are any other surges,” Sarnoff said about whether the Patty Jenkins-directed sequel sticks to its release date or not. “We’ve got a little bit of time to figure that out.”

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