Movie buffs are trading in their couches for theater seats.

After two years of temporary closures and few movie releases, movie theaters in the Twin Cities area and across the country are almost back to pre-pandemic strength thanks to summer blockbusters and prices that still make the movie one of the most affordable ways to go. spend a night out.

However, despite the significant rebound, theater operators say they are still vulnerable to a downturn without a steady stream of blockbuster hits.

The parking lot at the Marcus Oakdale Cinema began filling up Tuesday evening as families looked to take advantage of the $5 ticket deals. Children, some in blankets or dressed as fairy tale characters, filed in as families spilled into the lobby. The buttery smell of popcorn was heavy in the air.

“I like it here because it has a bigger screen and you can sit up high,” said Selene Belz, 8, as she waited in line with her parents to get snacks.

Mary Lee, who was at the theater with her brothers to see the new movie “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero,” said she appreciated that although the theater was alive, it wasn’t too crowded.

“She doesn’t seem too busy or crazy today,” she said.

Cinemas struggled during the pandemic even after reopening. Movie companies limited the amount of movies they distributed and many people chose to watch movies at home. But as cases of COVID-19 receded, more people went out for fun.

Foot traffic to movie theaters has been on the rise since May. In July, theater visits were up 72% compared to March, according to data firm During the first half of this year, traffic at the country’s major cinema chains steadily improved with Cinemark visits almost reaching pre-pandemic levels last month.

Family-owned B&B Theaters says the Mall of America movie theater, which it acquired and reopened in May 2021, is “exceeding expectations.”

“We’ve been extremely pleased with the past year,” said Paul Farnsworth, spokesman for Missouri-based B&B Theatres.

Michelle Mann, co-owner of Bloomington-based Mann Theaters, said sales are about 75% of what they were in 2019 and continue to improve. “It just keeps getting better,” she said.

Mann said her company is working to cater to the different audiences of each of its eight locations. For example, at her Grandview theater in St. Paul the company successfully started showing classic films earlier this year.

The four-screen, art deco Edina Theater, which Mann’s father owned in the ’80s, is being renovated to pay homage to the horror classic “The Shining,” complete with a golden ballroom lounge and a crowd-pleasing backdrop. to take pictures next to a broken one. the door like the one where actor Jack Nicholson delivers his famous line “There’s Johnny!”

“We’re very honored to be the ones to bring it back,” Mann said of the theater.

Much of the summer’s success is due to big-budget films like Top Gun: Maverick, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Jurassic World: Dominion.

“As long as we continue to have an adequate supply of movies, we feel very, very good about the continued journey of rebuilding our industry,” said Rolando Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Marcus Theatres.

Revenue for Marcus improved significantly in the second quarter of this year and is now about 80% of pre-pandemic levels, he said. Based on surveys conducted for the National Association of Theater Owners, which Rodriguez chairs, nearly 90% of focus groups surveyed recently said they were open to going to the movies.

Major US movie theater chains have also reported business improvements. AMC, the world’s largest movie chain, reported revenue of nearly $1.2 billion this quarter, compared with nearly $445 million last year at this time. Cinemark’s revenue increased more than 150% in April, May and June.

However, major movie chains are still losing hundreds of millions of dollars each season as they try to recover ground lost during the pandemic.

Cineworld Group PLC, which owns Regal Cinemas, said this week it was considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States as it struggles with billions of dollars in debt and lower-than-expected admissions levels.

The summer started off strong, but business is starting to slow down again without big new shows, said Nathan Block, who owns the Woodbury 10th Theater and St. Louis Cinemas.

“I think we’re going to end up losing what we’ve gained in the last three months, which is kind of discouraging,” Block said.

Movie theaters are even more dependent on big-budget movies, Block said. Theater owners are counting on shows such as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in November and “Avatar: The Way of Water” in December to draw audiences from their homes.

There’s a segment of viewers who just haven’t been back to the movies and probably never will, Block said. But for others, he said, a theater provides a sense of community they lacked in the pandemic.

“We need this more than ever,” he said. “If movies can play a small part in bringing people together, we can’t afford to lose that experience.”

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