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With attempts to get the public to practice social distancing only increasing, many places where people gather in large numbers, like theme parks and stadiums, have shut down for at least the next couple of weeks. Places where smaller, but still significant, groups of people gather, restaurants and bars, have closed in some places, but not others. The nation's major movie theater chains are still open, but the largest among them, AMC, after cutting theater occupancy in half, has now taken another step to reduce attendance by putting a hard cap of 50 people per theater in place.
The new AMC policy, via, THR, dubbed 50/50, will reduce a given theater's capacity to 50% of the total seats, or 50 seats total, whichever number is less. This falls in line with the newest CDC guidelines, which call to limit public gatherings to no more than 50 people. The new policy will run until at least the end of April.
In the grand scheme of things, the new policy probably won't hurt AMC's bottom line anymore than the Coronavirus already has. This past weekend's box office was abysmal, and one can pretty confidently blame people's lack of interest in going out to the theater due to the outbreak of the global pandemic. If most theaters saw numbers like this anyway, than making it official policy doesn't hurt.
At the same time, one wonders at what point it becomes financially untenable to even keep the theaters open. If there aren't enough people buying tickets and popcorn, then having the theater open becomes more expansive than closing it down. With the box office that we just saw likely set to be the high point for the next month or so, due to the fact that no major wide release are currently scheduled to open until April 10 with Trolls World Tour, the combination of people avoiding theaters and the fact that there's nothing new to see could still result in theaters closing.
Even once things back to "normal" theaters are likely to have problems. Movie fans might be less excited about going back to crowded places even after they're told doing so is ok. There will also be a lot to work out regarding movie releases. All the films that were scheduled to open but don't will need to find new dates, which will likely result in a significant change to the entire release calendar as everything moves around. The calendar could see moves for the next year as films that are currently in production might get pushed back due to delays of their own.
Certainly, this story isn't entirely over yet. It's still possible, even likely, that we'll see even more movies delayed which will further impact theater attendance. As with all other elements of the move to self-isolation, the period after it's over will likely be messy as we all try to figure out how to get back to normal.