How Movie Theater Owners Are ‘Learning to Live With COVID': A Report From CinemaCon

Even with scaled-down festivities and the shadow of the Delta variant looming, the trade show’s upbeat messaging shines through

The spirit of CinemaCon 2021 could be best summed up when its managing director this week took the stage at the Caesar’s Palace Colosseum wearing a “Son of the Pink Panther” T-shirt and a “Jurassic Park III” cap, memorabilia from movie theater trade shows from decades past.

The optimism that Mitch Neuhauser brings to that stage every year wasn’t dented — not even with a pandemic still sweeping through the world. “Let us remember those we have lost, but let this week we spend together also be the point where we start to turn to a brighter future,” Neuhauser said. “Because I truly believe that however long it takes, we as an industry will come back stronger than before because people truly value going to the movies.”

While the mood offstage was much more cautious — especially with the Delta variant spiking infections and hospitalizations nationwide — theater execs told TheWrap said they felt that movie theaters would be able to return to the peak box office of 2018-19, even if it takes a bit longer than they hoped. It’s the kind of optimism that has pushed exhibitors and studios alike through the most turbulent period in industry history.

“I don’t think its stubborn optimism; it’s data-driven optimism,” Tim Handren, the CEO of the nine-theater Texas chain Santikos Theaters, told TheWrap. “We know there’s going to be ups and downs, but still trending upward because we’ve seen the data. With Delta, we’ve seen our turnout in August take a big hit, but back in July we saw it reach 70% of pre-pandemic levels and that was just with two big films.”

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Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • jeremy.fuster@thewrap.com • Twitter: @jeremyfuster