Indoor movies theaters reopened their doors in Silicon Valley last month. I’ve wondered how long they would stay open before the coronavirus pandemic got worse. That question got answered this week. Most California counties returned to the restrictive purple tier. Movie theaters are once more closed to the public. I saw three movies in three weeks: Tenet, Goldfinger, and Freaky. What was it like to watch each movie inside a theater during the pandemic?
Tenet became the bellwether for rescheduled movies during the summer. Competing with Mulan and later Ted & Bill Face The Music to be the first movie to reopen indoor theaters. Ted & Bill Face The Music reopened on August 27, 2020, in theaters and video on demand. Mulan and Tenet both opened during Labor Day weekend. Mulan went straight to Disney Plus. Tenet went straight to the theaters.
Tenet failed to drive reluctant viewers back inside to see a movie. Being a Christopher Nolan’s movie, the plot was a brainteaser that didn’t appeal to a wide audience. The movie appeared in 70% of the reopened indoor movie theaters throughout the U.S. But the three largest markets—New York City, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area—weren’t open. Drive-ins in those markets couldn’t show Tenet because nearby indoor theaters weren’t open.
From my experience and what I’ve read on Twitter, a dozen people per showing was a typical audience for Tenet. Being the only movie that could draw a “large” audience. The other movies I’ve seen had a half-dozen or fewer people in the audience.
The second movie I saw was Goldfinger. A classic James Bonds movie starring Sean Connery that my friend and I haven’t seen in the theaters. We were too young or weren’t born yet to see it in 1964. Since Connery died last month, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see this movie. I haven’t seen Goldfinger in years and the last time was a TV-censored version.
Connery’s James Bond as an unedited serial womanizer is shocking by today’s standard. Half the stuff he did in the 1960s would have gotten him jail time today. The James Bond movies since then toned down the serial womanizing.
AMC Theatres offered Goldfinger as a $5 USD movie. A total of four people came to the showing in the smallest theater. With social distancing rules in play, a half-dozen people were the limit for the theater. Since we stayed all the way through the credits, we almost got sprayed with disinfectant on the way out.
The newest movie was Freaky that came out on Friday the 13th last week. A black comedy horror movie that blends Freaky Friday, Jennifer’s Body and Friday The 13th. A shy high school girl and a cold-blooded serial killer switch bodies. They have 24 hours to undo the switch before it becomes permanent. The shy high school girl becomes a cold-blooded beauty who guts the football team. The cold-blooded serial killer becomes a shy high school girl who learns how to pee standing up. A fun-splattered movie with so many politically incorrect references.
A total of six people saw the movie in the AMC Dolby theater. Freaky made $3.7 million USD on 2,472 screens in North America during its first weekend. That’s a blockbuster these days. A movie that cost $6 million USD to make should do well during the holidays with so few new movies to compete against.
What’s the future of indoor movie theaters? Not a whole lot as the pandemic continues to get worse in the months ahead. I don’t expect indoor movie theaters to reopen until the spring—if they reopen at all next year. Going to the movies was fun while it lasted.