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Movie theaters eye comeback
AMC Theater outside.jpg
AMC Theaters says it will reopen more than 400 locations in the U.S. on July 30. Most theaters have been shuttered since March.

Movie theaters have been in the dark since March when COVID-19 forced nationwide closures.

Screens could finally begin to light up by the end of the month.

AMC Theaters, the nation’s largest chain, says it will open approximately 450 U.S. locations on July 30 and its remaining 150 theaters the following week.

Locally, Three Star Cinema owner Bob Bassham says that’s probably the same timeline he is considering for reopening, perhaps even a little sooner.

“One of the big problems we’re facing is the film companies keep pushing movies further out and delaying their release dates,” said Bassham. “If we have to show movies that have already been released, attendance will be on the light side for sure. Then you get into the situation where we might be losing if we reopen.”

Bassham says the Russell Crowe movie “Unhinged” is scheduled to be the first new film to hit theaters in months. It has a release date of July 31. After that, he says there are a couple films with release dates in early August.

“We might try to open a week or so before the Russell Crowe film to get people used to the fact we’re back open,” said Bassham. “Some of these films, the companies really spend a lot of money making them, $200 million or more. They need to get their money back so it takes a lot of screens to do it.”

Reopening theaters is contingent on coronavirus cases being held in check. In New York, for example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state is delaying the reopening of its theaters while the safety of indoor venues is further researched.

In an effort to provide a safer alternative, Walmart announced last week it will be converting 160 of its U.S. store parking lots into drive-in movie theaters beginning in August. Walmart will be partnering with Tribeca Enterprises, a media company backed by Robert De Niro, to schedule movies.

It has not been revealed which Walmart stores will have their parking lots transformed into drive-in theaters. That will be announced at a later date.

Drive-in movie venues have been popping up all over the country since business owners have been forced temporarily to shut down their traditional theater operations. In some cases they have constructed makeshift drive-ins to make up for lost income.