Could U.S. Theaters Stay Closed Until Mid-2021?

Collectively, the film industry has several pressing questions on its mind in the era of the coronavirus, but one of the most significant is: when will movie theaters reopen on a significant scale in the United States?

Despite the fact that films like Tenet and Mulan are still currently slated to be released theatrically next month, one analyst thinks domestic theaters might not reopen until the middle of 2021.

The Hollywood Reporter brings word that Doug Creutz, an analyst for a prominent research company called Cowen, has some harsh predictions for the future of the entertainment industry. "We had previously assumed that the spread of COVID-19 would be relatively halted, with social distancing requirements significantly lessened by late 2020," Creutz writes. "We have now extended that timeline out to at least mid-2021; the situation remains very fluid, and we do not rule out the possibility that the impact could last even longer."

Keep in mind that this is just one person's guess. But before you go full Lebowski on him ("Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man"), know that this guy's been in the analysis game at this company for almost twenty years. Obviously we're all in unprecedented territory here, but as coronavirus cases continue to rise in places like Florida and California, the likelihood of Cruetz's prediction coming true seems increasingly probable.

Creutz says he does not expect there to be any film releases in the 2020 fiscal year, which ends at different times for different companies (example: it concludes in September for Disney). "We now expect domestic theaters to be largely closed until mid-2021," he writes, "in part because we don't think studios will be interested in releasing their largest movies into a capacity-constrained footprint."

If he's right, the effect on the theatrical landscape could be catastrophic. I can't imagine that independent theaters will be able to hang on for that long, considering many if not all of them have already found themselves severely strapped for cash after just a few months of being closed due to the pandemic. AMC, the country's largest chain, recently signed a deal that would stretch their debts to a point that will keep them afloat through the entirety of 2021. If this prediction holds true, could AMC be our only moviegoing option by this time next year?

Meanwhile, Creutz also predicts that on the theme park side of things, Disney won't return to the level of profitability it experienced in 2019 until 2025. Not great, Bob.