• In an interview to promote his latest movie, News of The World, Tom Hanks predicted that the coronavirus pandemic will not spell the end for movie theaters.
  • The reality facing movie theaters is much more complex than that statement would imply, however, as a result of not only the coronavirus pandemic — but also skittish patrons who will be hesitant to return to cinemas.
  • It remains to be seen the degree to which the movie theater business will be able to return to normal, having had to endure months of closures, disruptions to their business, a lack of new product, and more.

Over the weekend, I decided to do something I hadn’t done since earlier this summer, when director Christopher Nolan’s Tenet finally landed in movie theaters and gave movie fans a major new release to buy tickets for. Of course, even though the coronavirus pandemic back then was still only a few months into its rampage across the country, I made the decision to check out Tenet at my local drive-in, from the safety of my car and well socially-distanced from other moviegoers. That’s what I was trying to repeat over the weekend. After waiting months to get word about a definitive release date for Promising Young Woman — which critics and movie fans had regarded as one of the most promising theatrical releases of 2020, until it was indefinitely shelved early on in the pandemic — the team behind the film made an unconscionable decision, in my opinion: It would debut for a brief period exclusively in theaters, with a video on demand release to follow.

My head is still spinning at the lack of any logic whatsoever behind that decision. If the pandemic necessitated that the movie’s release be pulled back in April, why in the world was the decision made to force people to put themselves in harm’s way, to a degree, to see this, when the pandemic is now an order of magnitude worse than it was back in April?

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Nevertheless, I didn’t see any risk in visiting the drive-in near my apartment to see Promising Young Woman, assuming I could find a showing.

Alas, it was not to be. That’s because the local health department here in Memphis has ordered the re-closure of all the cinemas in the city — which makes sense, given the scary rise in coronavirus cases we’ve experienced here and across the state of Tennessee over the past several weeks. But it makes no sense whatsoever that the health department’s order has also extended to the drive-in theater we have here, as well. Not only does a drive-in present moviegoers with an almost completely safe movie-going experience — assuming you’re not a moron and have let irresponsible people into your car — but you’re completely socially distanced from other patrons. It’s outdoors. What’s more, making this decision all the more arbitrary and near-capricious is the fact that indoor dining at restaurants is still allowed here in the city. And, last I read, strip clubs here were still open.

I said all that to make the point that, movie theaters have their backs against the wall already as a direct result of the pandemic. But as if that wasn’t enough, their troubles are compounded by everything from many patrons being no doubt hesitant to return (in cities where movie theaters are actually open, that is), as well as endless restrictions from local officials, like what I saw here in trying to visit my local drive-in again but discovering that it’s been re-closed — for no good reason, if you ask me.

During a round of press for his new movie News of The World, which released in theaters on Christmas Day, star Tom Hanks offered his prediction for the future of movie theaters: In short, that they’re not going anywhere. That they will still exist, on the other side of the pandemic.

“A sea change was due, anyway,” Hanks told Collider. “It was coming.”

“Will movie theaters still exist? Absolutely, they will. In some ways, I think the exhibitors — once they’re up and open — are going to have the freedom of choice of what movies they’re going to play.”

I would respectfully disagree — or, rather, question the wisdom behind that assumption. Where is it written that the long-term survival of anything is guaranteed? You could argue that one of the many, many mistakes made during the course of the US response to COVID-19 has been the indifference to businesses and workers suffering under the assumption that if they can just bide their time during the pandemic, just hold on a little longer, eventually, the dust will settle, the clouds will part, and they can breathe a sigh of relief that life has returned to normal again.

We’ve seen that with the staggeringly inept congressional response to the pandemic by way of a new COVID relief bill that took months for lawmakers to get over themselves enough to hammer out, and then President Trump unnecessarily dragged out the signing process for the bill to actually become law. That’s what I mean — offering an inadequate response to people and businesses for whom it might already be too late.

Said a different way, too many decisions have been made by too many people throughout the pandemic that are not backed up by anything of substance. Over time, it will become clearer how much poorer we all are for that.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.