COVID-19 decline signals a rebirth of South Florida movie theaters

At the beginning of the new decade, moviegoing audiences were expecting another long year of blockbusters and highly anticipated releases. Instead, they were given notifications that their most anticipated films were delayed by several months or even a year. And there was a simple closed sign hung on the doors of local movie theaters.

For more than a year, even as blockbusters and other films began to make their way back into the slowly re-opening theaters, most film lovers were still hesitant to return. That was either because they had become comfortable with streaming services or because they feared contracting COVID-19.

However that all changed with the release of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” last December. Theaters were treated to the biggest audiences they had seen since the start of the pandemic. The film became the highest-grosser of 2021 as well as the first film released in the pandemic to garner over a billion dollars at the box office. The film, which returned to theaters earlier this month with the release of a new extended cut, is credited with revitalizing the business.

“Across the whole board, it helped business get back to where it needs to be,” said the manager of the Regal Kendall Village theater who, under company policy, could not be named. The same could be said for the CMX Brickell City Centre theater.

“We had crowds at my biggest location of nearly 9,000 people per day,” said the manager of this theater who, like the Regal Kendall manager, could not be named under company policy. “When you look at it before those numbers, you only have 1,500.” He added that Spider-Man brought “not just a boom, but a super boom.”

The road prior to the newfound resurgence, however, was not easy for some of these theaters. The Regal Kendall Village Cinema took the opportunity to completely refurbish, rebrand, and redo both the interior and exterior of the theater. And though it wasn’t long for crowds to return to the newly opened theater, the manager still claimed there was one particular issue.

“Nothing was really coming out at the time,” he said. However, he remained confident in the audiences coming back, calling it a “nice little getaway.”

Once the theater reopened, the manager and team knew the next plan was to continue bringing the already-returning crowds back. Showing the year’s newest blockbusters wasn’t enough. Regal Cinemas offered discounted prices for their moviegoers on Tuesdays as well as offering both screenings of UFC fights and classic films for longtime and newer movie lovers.

Meanwhile, for the CMX manager, reopening the theater proved to be a much more difficult challenge.

“When we finally came back, a lot of the issues came from lack of maintenance,” said the manager when asked of the biggest challenges that came with reopening the theater and even mentioned how at another location he works at, the closed theater struggled with a severe mold issue as soon as they returned, further delaying the theater’s reopening.

“The elements really do a number on a location depending on humidity, heat, stuff like that,” he continued. He also added the fact that like the Regal Kendall cinema, the theater also dealt with a lack of popular movies and further attributed this issue to the fact that several films like “Turning Red” and “Trolls: World Tour” were kept entirely out of theaters and debuted exclusively on streaming platforms.

Following its eventual reopening, the theater quickly began working to bring its loyal customers back. They are holding deals for sports fans to watch games at the theater on Sundays as well as offering several community service and giveback programs for each of the CMX brand’s locations throughout Florida like offering tickets to students and schools.

However, simply because most audiences are ecstatic to return to these theaters, some have become more satisfied with the major streaming services used today to provide them with a moviegoing experience.

Ignacio Diaz, an FIU student studying multimedia production and an avid film lover, has recently found himself against the idea of going to see a movie in a theater. Diaz, who prefers viewing these films either on a streaming service or through physical Blu-rays, states that his affection for the cinemas has greatly decreased due to the recurrence of disrespectful audience members disrupting the experience for him as well as their lack of films that particularly interest him. However, there is one film Diaz recalls that he made several trips to the theater to see.

“Top Gun: Maverick,” the current highest-grossing film of the year and perhaps the year’s most popular film as well, reignited the film industry’s summer season and was responsible for substantial crowds returning to the theaters earlier this year.

Despite all the issues and challenges, both managers are extremely confident in the future of their theaters.

“I think that the movie industry is going to keep on striving and I don’t think that Covid is going to bring us down any longer than it has but I think we’re gonna continue to go and we’re gonna be here for a while,” said the Regal Kendall Village manager.

Meanwhile, the manager for the CMX Brickell City Centre theater is working hard to get the crowds back into the building. The theater suffered a 50 percent loss of year-over-year attendance. Besides lowering ticket prices and giving discount days to the public audiences, the manager is most prepared to “expand the concepts” of their locations, as he said.

Following suit of the CMX chain’s sister company in Mexico, the manager mentioned hosting gaming tournaments.

“Obviously, it depends on what we can do and what we can’t do but it’s something we are actively looking towards,” he said.

Luca Fornoni is a senior at FIU and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Digital Journalism. He mainly enjoys spending time with his family and friends as much as possible as well as watching and discussing movies.