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Unusual offerings keep Oxford movie theater in business during pandemic

AmStar

AmStar Cinemas manager, Tyler Davis shows their new luxury recliner seating that are in every theatre in the Quintard Mall. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

Deja Mitchell couldn’t take being cooped up anymore.

Mitchell showed up at the ticket window of AmStar Theaters in the Quintard Mall on Saturday, hoping for a ticket to see the 2018 horror movie “Halloween.” It was something to do, after months of pandemic anxiety.

“I’m just sick of being at home, I guess,” Mitchell said. “You can’t let the pandemic run you, but at the same time you’ve got to be safe.” 

The lines at AmStar, Calhoun County’s only movie theater, weren’t long. Even when there is a crowd, state health rules don’t allow theaters to be filled to full capacity. But the theater’s manager says AmStar is staying afloat despite the pandemic. 

“We’re keeping the lights on, but business is nowhere near what it used to be,” said Tyler Davis, manager of AmStar. 

COVID-19 has been tough on the movie theater business, here and across the country. In Alabama, theaters were among the businesses shut down in the April stay-at-home order. They weren’t allowed to reopen until late May — and only with the now-familiar rules about wearing face coverings, limiting seating to 50 percent of occupancy and keeping people six feet apart. 

The pandemic also robbed movie houses of the blockbusters that historically have pulled people away from the little screen and toward the big one.

Disney’s live-action “Mulan,” originally set for release in spring, went directly to the company’s streaming service in August.

Wonder Woman has begun to appear on fast-food cups and candy wrappers in recent weeks, but the superhero sequel associated with that merchandising campaign has yet to hit the screen. 

One major theater chain, AMC, reported in regulatory filings in June that it might not survive the pandemic, according to the Associated Press. Last week, the owners of the Regal Cinemas chain reported that it lost 67 percent of its revenue this year so far, according to CNN, and would need more cash on hand to stay in business if COVID-19 shutdowns return. 

The COVID crunch has forced theater owners to get creative. Davis said that for much of the summer, the focus was on kids’ shows, bringing in families looking for a way to spend some time out of the house. 

Now the marquee features the few grownup movies the studios dare to release — the comedy “Kajillionaire” and the superhero film “New Mutants” — along with old favorites.

Depending on when you show up, you can see “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “The Empire Strikes Back” or “The Lord of the Rings” in the theater again.

Moviegoers can also rent an entire theater, for $120, for private showings of classic movies. 

Before the pandemic, theaters were already pulling out the stops to compete with Netflix and Amazon. Amstar renovated earlier this year to add recliner-like seats, and Davis said the theater now has a license to serve beer.

Davis said the slowdown of film Hollywood film production is probably a bigger threat to the business than state-imposed limits on seating.

“A lot of the mom-and-pops have had to close their doors because there’s just not enough content to show,” he said.

Superheroes could save the day, if they arrive in time. Davis said “Wonder Woman 1984,” originally set for summer release, is now expected to arrive for the holiday movie season. The Marvel movie “Black Widow,” another proposed 2020 summer release, won’t be out until 2021. 

But Kelsey Pike of Roanoke couldn’t wait. With three kids in tow, she came to Amstar Saturday hoping to get tickets to “Trolls World Tour” or, failing that, some other kid-friendly fare. Their last trip to the movies was around Valentine’s Day, she said. 

“We haven’t really been anywhere since the pandemic,” Pike said.

 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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