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Moviegoers wear protective masks at an AMC movie theater in Los Angeles, March 15. Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The biggest test for moviegoer appetite since the pandemic is coming — and it's make-or-break for theaters trying to salvage their annihilated businesses.

Why it matters: The world is reopening and restrictions are rolling back. But the pandemic ushered in a new era for how studios release films that could stick around.

The summer box office kicks off with "A Quiet Place Part II" — out next Friday.

  • Yes, but: It'll be on streaming platform Paramount+ just 45 days later, half as much time as the typical exclusive theater release.

Catch up quick: Big films are landing on streaming services as they debut in theaters, or shortly thereafter. It's delivered a massive blow to theaters trying to lure back moviegoers who can just watch from their couches.

  • "What happens this summer will help studios decide how they're going to act later in the year, and especially around the holidays," Wedbush's Alicia Reese tells Axios.

What they're saying: "It's always frustrating when you don't have control over your product," Shelli Taylor, CEO of movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse, said on today's episode of the Axios Re:Cap podcast.

  • "The situation for theaters ... is that we don't have control."

Of note: Alamo Drafthouse filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

  • Helped by the new obsession with AMC's stock (thanks to r/WallStreetBets), the theater chain has enough cash "to see them through to the return of attendance," says Reese.

Signs of life: The April box office hit $190 million, up 300% since February, the New York Times reports.

  • In the same month in 2019, the box office brought in $1 billion.

Go deeper

May 20, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

The pandemic's toll on Minneapolis movie theaters

The Riverview Theater in Minneapolis is reopening, but many others won't. Photo: Nick Halter/Axios

Most of the megaplex movie theater chains have reopened after screens went dark in the Twin Cities, but many small theaters have been slow to come back ... or worse, closed for good.

Driving the news: The landlord of the iconic Uptown Theater in Minneapolis this week filed to evict operator Landmark Theaters for non-payment of rent, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

  • Landmark Theaters has also decided to permanently close its Edina 4 theater, according to a report last month from Indie Wire. An Edina city official confirmed to Axios that the theater won't reopen.
  • And last year, local chain Mann Theaters decided to close its second-run Hopkins 6 theater.

State of play: Movie theaters are at the mercy of Hollywood to not only churn out more films, but also to stop sending those films directly to streaming services. Even with restrictions lifting, theaters need good new movies to bring in guests.

  • That's been particularly hard for second-run theaters that have longer wait-times for films.

The good news: The historic Riverview Theater announced Tuesday it will reopen its south Minneapolis doors on May 28.

  • The catch: The theater had to switch temporarily from a second-run model to new releases, starting with "A Quiet Place Part II."
  • As a result, ticket prices will increase to $5 for children, seniors and all matinees. Evening adult admission will be $7.

More good news: Mann re-opened its Grandview Theater in St. Paul this week and went from three to seven days a week at Highland Theater.

Of note: Attempts to reach Minneapolis' St. Anthony Main, which doesn't have showings scheduled, have not been successful, but the theater previously told WCCO-TV that it was doing renovations and would reopen in April.

May 20, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

A new documentary about Des Moines' old movie theaters

Photo courtesy of Mark Heggen

The Varsity Virtual Cinema is offering a free viewing of a documentary about "the boom and disappearances" of DSM’s classic movie houses.

The state of play: "Lost Cinemas of Greater Des Moines" uses archival film and photos of theaters from the early 1900s to present day. It premiered last week at the Varsity and is available for free through May 28.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

500 Hong Kong police officers raid pro-democracy newspaper

Chief Operations Officer Chow Tat Kuen (front 2nd R) is escorted by police from the Apple Daily newspaper offices before being put into a waiting vehicle in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Apple Daily said 500 police officers searched the pro-democracy newspaper's offices and arrested five senior executives on Thursday.

Why it matters: The arrests of the paper's chief editor, Ryan Law, along with its chief operating officer, two other editors and the CEO of Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily, were made under China's national security law — which gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom.

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