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Regal Cinemas is reopening some of its U.S. theaters in April

Going to the movies during a pandemic
Missing the movie theater experience? Here's what it's like to go to the movies during a pandemic 04:06

Regal Cinemas will welcome back moviegoers to some of its theaters next month, its parent company Cineworld said Tuesday. The reopening of the country's second largest theater chain will mark the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began that all three major theater companies in the U.S. are in operation. 

London-based Cineworld said it would open some Regal theaters on April 2 with the limited release of "Godzilla vs. Kong." More Regals will open on April 16 when "Mortal Kombat" is set to be released, Cineworld said. 

Regal locations will be able to operate profitably, as many states have now relaxed their theater capacity restrictions, Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said in a statement.

"We have long-awaited this moment when we can welcome audiences back to our Regal theaters and restore our essential role within the communities we serve," Greidinger said.

Regal's 536 theaters have been closed since early October, with Cineworld officials on Tuesday saying they closed theaters in part because Hollywood studios stopped production on major films during the pandemic. Greidinger said U.S. theaters make up 75% of Cineworld's business and added that the company was looking to reopen its U.K. theaters in May. 

Straight to stream

Indeed, 2020 featured some particularly challenging months for movie theaters. Highly anticipated movie releases including "Wonder Woman 1984" and Disney Pixar's "Soul" debuted on streaming services, skipping theater releases altogether. Some movie theater chains — including Alamo Drafthouse and Studio Movie Grill — filed for bankruptcy. 

At one point, AMC believed it would run out of cash by December, but a wave of retail investors surprisingly poured $917 million into the company, effectively saving the theater chain from bankruptcy.

The pandemic forced AMC, Cinemark, Regal and other movie theater chains to temporarily close last year as profits across the cinema industry crashed. Total box office sales plunged to roughly $2 billion in 2020, down from around $11 billion in 2019 and $12 billion in 2018, according to estimates from Wedbush Securities.  

Regal Cinemas to close U.S. theaters indefinitely, affecting tens of thousands of workers 01:07

AMC, the nation's largest movie theater operator, now has most of its locations reopened. Cinemark, the third-largest chain, reopened its locations last summer.

Wedbush analysts said North American box office sales are down 91% so far this year, but they expect ticket sales to improve in 2021 compared to last year. As more Americans get vaccinated for COVID-19, people will become comfortable sitting in movie theaters and eating concession stand food, analyst Michael Pachter told CBS MoneyWatch.

Cineworld's announcement is the start of what's expected to be a strong and fast comeback for cinemas nationwide, Pachter said. Part of the comeback hinges on how quickly movie studios — like Universal and Disney — are willing to release films in theaters again, he said. Movie-goers buying tickets for upcoming releases will also play a huge role. 

"And I think there's huge pent-up demand there," Pachter said. "We're all dying to get out."

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