If you want to see the next blockbuster movie in a theater, you may soon need to show proof you’ve had a COVID vaccine.
The top lobbyist for theater chains says owners are open to vaccine mandates and believes that while it may lead to short-term financial pain for the movie business, in the long run, it will be beneficial.
At CinemaCon, an industry convention currently underway in Las Vegas, National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) CEO John Fithian told trade publication Deadline that the group hasn’t opposed vaccine mandates for theaters in places like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, even though they’re sure it will result in reduced ticket sales. When France and Italy imposed similar requirements, box office revenues immediately dropped. But Fithian says owners realize mandates could be the industry’s ticket back to pre-pandemic attendance.
“Honestly,” he told TheWrap, “it’s a mixed bag for movie theaters. On the one hand, it will cost us some business, and we know that because some unvaccinated people won’t be able to attend our cinemas.” He continued, “The upside, of course, is that we as an industry that represents places where people gather recognize that we need vaccination rates to climb to get back to a full recovery as we go into next year. The vaccination mandates have shown a substantial increase in people’s interest in getting vaccinated, and we hope the same thing happens in these places in the United States.”
Fithian, who has been making the media rounds speaking for hundreds of chains, including the three biggest — AMC, Regal, and Cinemark — has given no signal that owners will balk at requiring proof of vaccine for entry across the country.
A few weeks ago, Fithian told The Hollywood Reporter, “In order for the exhibition industry to fully recover, we need more people to be vaccinated. It’s pure science. The rates of shots had went quite well for a while in the U.S. and then they dropped off. We need them to keep going.”
Fithian continued, “Don’t get me wrong. There are going to be some lost ticket sales in the short term. Working through how we implement it and how we deal with the economics are challenges, but we’re not going to oppose it, because people need to get vaccinated.”
During the company’s most recent earnings call a few weeks ago, AMC CEO Adam Aron said that vaccinations will be “the solution” to a box office rebound.
“The big change between this winter and last winter is vaccination,” he said, adding, “Fortunately, that the number of vaccinations, especially among the most vulnerable population, has been so extensive that we’re optimistic that we won’t see the kind of lockdown of society this winter that we saw last. We also hope that vaccination continues. There is no more important thing that any of you can do to protect yourselves, your families, your friends, and the country as a whole.”
Theater groups are also hoping the news that the FDA has finally approved the Pfizer vaccine will encourage the public to go back to the movies at pre-pandemic levels.
Shares of several big theater stocks saw a significant upswing when the news broke — AMC and Cinemark both went up more than 8% and Imax increased 6%.