DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (CBS) — One might not expect to hear the words, “Sold out at the box office,” during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it happens that movie buffs are hyped for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.”
It is the first big blockbuster released since the novel coronavirus hit. But as CBS 2’s Lauren Victory reported Wednesday, not all theaters in the Chicago area plan to cash in.
COVID-19, of course, put moviegoing on hold. There have been no lights, camera, or action, but the industry has certainly experienced… suspense.
The big question is whether people will flock to the flicks during a pandemic if it is not a blockbuster like the upcoming new “Wonder Woman” playing.
Classic Cinemas experimented with the idea of getting people back into the theater in June.
“We did about 10 percent of what we would normally do,” said Classic Cinemas chief executive officer Chris Johnson.
We met Johnson at the York Theatre in Elmhurst back in June, just weeks before Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan granted movie theaters permission to reopen to the public.
Johnson had upgraded cleaning protocols, instituted socially-distanced assigned seating, and announced plans to hire 60 more people.
But with nothing but old material to play? As the late CBS 2 Movie Critic Gene Siskel and his partner Roger Ebert would have said, it was thumbs down.
“The attendance didn’t match our expectations as far as being able to remain open, so we closed two weeks later,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, you need new movies to have a successful movie theater.”
Now, “Tenet” is hitting the U.S., after generating $53 million overseas. Showings are already sold out at places in Chicago like the Music Box Theatre, the venerable venue at 3733 N. Southport Ave.
“There have been a few other films that did come out, but this is the first tent pole, as they call it,” Johnson said.
A successful movie will bring highly-anticipated and much-needed revenue. But at Classic Cinemas’ Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove – which Victory visited for this story – they only got the projector going and glowing at CBS 2’s request. It will not be on for the public.
Johnson is holding off on Classic Cinemas’ second reopening.
“It took a lot of effort and a lot of resources and money and bringing people back and having to furlough them,” Johnson said. “We just didn’t want to go through that again.”
Johnson’s eyes are on Hollywood – waiting to see if the October release of the new “Wonder Woman” is delayed. But elsewhere, the show goes on across Chicagoland.
“I would encourage people to go to theaters that are open,” he said.
Johnson belongs to the National Association of Theater Owners. The organization said more than 2,600 locations across the U.S. are following protocols they have created called “Cinema Safe.”
Masks are required for watching the movie, unless you’re munching on popcorn or sipping a drink.