It’s an annual tradition for the heads of the Motion Picture Association and the National Association of Theater Owners to give an upbeat speech at CinemaCon on the future of the movie theater industry. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, NATO CEO John Fithian and MPA CEO Charles Rivkin were more passionate than ever.
“I applaud artists who refused to believe that movie theaters are a thing of the past and films are things that will only be seen at home,” Fithian told attendees in Las Vegas.
The global box office is in the midst of a long road to recovery, standing at $10 billion in worldwide grosses and $1.94 billion in North America. The latter total is up 6.9% from 2020, when theaters were forced to close worldwide starting in mid-March, but down 74% from 2019 totals. So far, four films have grossed $100 million domestically: “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “F9,” “A Quiet Place — Part II” and “Black Widow.”
“As movie lovers, I’m sure you’ll agree that we can all appreciate a great comeback story. Think of Rocky Balboa going the distance,” Rivkin said. “But in real life, as our industry works to achieve its own comeback, we know it’s going to take a little bit longer. But we’ve already gained incredible ground and learned strategic lessons along the way.
Rivkin spoke of the work that MPA and NATO did during the closure and recovery periods developing a global standard for COVID-19 safety protocols and the lobbying done with governors and on Capitol Hill to ensure financial support for theater owners and workers through the Paycheck Protection Program and the Save Our Stages Act. He also expressed optimism that the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine will help the box office, as theater stocks saw a boost on Monday in response to the approval.
Fithian also restated NATO’s staunch opposition to day-and-date releasing, something that many Hollywood studios have done in response to the pandemic but which NATO is insisting must be phased out in the long-term. Fithian also thanked Sony Pictures and its leaders for pledging to respect that theatrical window during its CinemaCon presentation on Monday.
“The theatrical window will not be what it was before the pandemic, but it cannot be what it is during the pandemic,” he said. “The future of our industry is still to be written by our members, but let us be absolutely clear: day-and-date streaming does not work.”
Fithian and Rivkin were joined by Chris Meledandri, the CEO of Illumination and producer of the “Despicable Me” films, who thanked theater owners for enduring the pandemic and continuing to devote themselves to cinema.
“Don’t get me wrong – during the pandemic, our smaller screens have been lifesavers,” Meledandri said. “We’ve all spent countless hours watching content at home. We’ve caught up on old movies. We’ve binged the latest series from around the world. But we’re here today because there is simply no other experience in the world like going to the movies.”
“In this moment of change, we as an industry cannot rest. We must challenge ourselves to reach higher and be better than we ever thought we could be. And when we meet this moment, I am confident that just as we have through a century…people all over the world will come together, join with family and friends and come to the movies,” he added.
Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Theaters, was also present to receive NATO’s Marquee Award, which was announced by the trade organization back in 2020 for the chain’s 100th anniversary but was cancelled by COVID-19. As he has done in earnings calls for the company, he touted AMC’s ability to survive the pandemic despite being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.
“There were people who wrote us off…but I’m here to tell you that they were wrong,” he said. “Once we are past the worst of this COVID crisis…studios will respect an exclusive theatrical window once again and here’s why: there’s nothing like seeing dazzling images on a silver screen.”