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Movie theaters shut down in Borderland and across nation

movie theater screen
Lakana file
Empty seats in a movie theater.

EL PASO, Texas -- Movie theaters have closed across the Borderland and nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, turning dark film screens in El Paso and the U.S.

Nationwide, roughly 40,000 screens were shutdown.

In El Paso, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema closed until further notice, saying all showings were cancelled and tickets would be refunded. Cinemark also shuttered its theaters in what officials called a "incredibly tough" decision, and AMC said its' theater shutdown could last up to three months.

Many of the theater chains had tried to remain open even as Hollywood postponed its upcoming release plans and guidelines for social distancing steadily diminished the recommended size of crowds. But after President Donald Trump urged against gatherings of more than 10 people, many theater chains decided Tuesday that theaters would close altogether.

AMC said the latest guidelines made movie theater operations “essentially impossible.” Meanwhile, the Alamo Drafthouse put an “Intermission” card up on its website.

“This news – this situation – is devastating,” the 41-theater circuit based in Texas wrote. “When we re-open after this unprecedented and indefinite hiatus, it will be in a dramatically altered world, and in an industry that’s been shaken to its core."

With most of Hollywood's March and April releases already postponed, the Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday also cleared out its May releases as well, including Marvel's “Black Widow.”

The Walt Disney Co. also indefinitely postponed “Black Widow," which had been set to open May 1. Marvel movies have for years been the regular kickoff to the summer movie going season. The company also put off the releases of “David Copperfield (May 8) and “The Woman in the Window” (May 15).

With movie theaters locked down for the foreseeable future, some studios took the extraordinary step of funneling new or recently released films onto home viewing platforms. Universal Pictures said it will make its current and upcoming films available for on-demand rental, becoming the first major studio to break the traditional theatrical window of 90 days due to the pandemic.

The studio said it will put movies currently in theaters — “Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” “Emma”— up for rental as early as Friday. It also said that “Trolls World Tour," one of the only major releases left on the April calendar, will debut in theaters and on-demand services simultaneously. A 48-hour rental will cost $19.99.

Universal's move could be seen as either a watershed moment for Hollywood or an aberration due to extreme circumstances. With few exceptions, the major studios have guarded the 90-day exclusivity window even as digital newcomers like Netflix and Amazon have challenged it. For the studios, box office still is the primary revenue generator, with worldwide ticket sales reaching $42.2 billion last year.

But over this past weekend, ticket sales plunged to their lowest levels in at least 20 years at U.S. and Canadian theaters. Not since a quiet September weekend in 2000 has weekend box-office revenue been so low, according to data firm Comscore.

The National Association of Theater Owners, the trade group that represents movie exhibitors, made its first statement on the shutdowns Tuesday, acknowledging the hardship facing movie theaters but also pledging that the theatrical window will resume once the crisis has passed. The organization said speculation that this will permanently expand home streaming of Hollywood studio productions “ignores the underlying financial logic of studio investment in theatrical titles.”

“To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world,” the association said in a statement. “While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal.”

NBCUniversal is prepping its own streaming service, dubbed Peacock, but it isn't to launch until July 15. On Sunday, the Walt Disney Co. made “Frozen 2” available on its streaming service, Disney Plus. But that film had already completed its theatrical run. Its digital release didn't break the traditional 90-day theatrical exclusivity window.

And Hollywood's major upcoming releases aren't currently heading for the home; they're being held for when theaters reopen. Paramount Pictures' “A Quiet Place Part II," earlier slated for release Friday, has been removed from the schedule. Disney's “Mulan" and the James Bond film “No Time to Die” have been put off. Universal earlier pushed its latest “Fast and Furious” movie, “F9,” from late May to April of next year.

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