Pandemic affecting local movie screenings

  • Ledger photo by Curtis Awbrey    Heritage Park Theatre 7 at 16107 U.S. Highway 283 in Altus.

OKLAHOMA CITY – The film industry has taken a tremendous hit in 2020 with the COVID-19 global pandemic. And naturally, that has filtered down to the movie theaters that screen the films that Hollywood has had such a difficult time getting in front of audiences.

For the small, Southwest Oklahoma Heritage Park Theatres chain – with theaters in Altus, Chickasha, Duncan, Elk City and Weatherford – movies are now only screened three days a week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In a message on Facebook, a manager at the Heritage Park Duncan theater reminded moviegoers that masks were still required to enter the theater.

“With the increases in the infection rate in Stephens County, we are following the guidelines established for the reduced risk of infection of our employees and our guests. So please remember to mask up.”

Heritage Park management also wrote that guests are also asked to wear masks when they get out of their seat. He noted that seating capacity has been reduced by 50% out of caution and social distancing requirements. Calls to Heritage Park were not returned.

Heritage Park theaters are screening some top Hollywood releases this holiday season, including

Wonder Woman 1984, Promising Young Woman, The Croods: A New Age, Monster Hunter and the historical drama News Of The World.

That latter film, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Paul Greengrass, opened on Christmas Day in approximately 1,900 theaters nationwide. Trade publication The Hollywood Reporter reported that analysts expect the film to “earn $4 million to $5 million over Christmas weekend.” Solid numbers were not available as of press time.

AMC Classic Patriot 13 theater in Lawton remains open throughout the week. 

The new films, in some cases, are being released both in theaters and via streaming services, in a situation that analysts say is “unprecedented.” Some films, like Pixar’s Soul, is going straight to Disney+, while it is getting a theatrical release in China, at the moment.

And while the traditional “popcorn palaces” like Tinseltown in Oklahoma City remain open, although at limited capacity, some of the larger theater chains like Regal, with its IMAX theaters, have been closed for several months following spikes in the coronavirus. It is part of the over 500 Regal locations that remains shuttered. A call to the historic Winchester Drive-In in Oklahoma City is reportedly “closed for a few weeks.” A brand new addition to Oklahoma City’s theater market – Flix Brewhouse – closed indefinitely beginning in November.

The Round Rock, Texas, chain entered the Oklahoma City market in early September and Southwest Ledger reported on how it was built with concerns over coronavirus in mind. Along with Flix’s unique combination of microbrewery, state-of-the-art digital projection and sound, comfortable stadium seating, parabolic screens, server-call systems and social-distanced seat spacing, it also featured “(a) cold plasma ionization heating/air systems that are on par with those of ultra-hygienic medical facilities.”

But then, a little more than two months after our story ran, Flix closed all of its locations “until further notice.”

The economic realities are staring the movie theater chains in the face. Data from the National Association of Theater Owners reports that a shocking 70% of theaters could file for bankruptcy or close permanently by the end of 2020. That could mean as many as 70,000 jobs lost.

As Flix owner Allan Reagan told the Austin Business Journal a few weeks back, “It’s a frightening number. It basically says that if nothing happens, this industry that has been part of America for well over 100 years goes away.”