All lighted up with no movies to play: Hollywood theaters in limbo

A quiet and empty Cinerama Dome at ArcLight Hollywood on March 20.
The Cinerama Dome at ArcLight Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard is quiet and empty on March 20.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
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At 8 o’clock on a Saturday night, the scene outside the Regal LA Live & 4DX theater complex in downtown L.A. would normally be packed. Moviegoers would be rushing to arrive by showtime, packing crosswalks and backing up traffic on a busy Olympic Boulevard. Across from the cineplex, taco trucks would be drawing their own crowds.

On this particular Saturday night, however, with California’s stay-at-home order in effect, there were no cars, no moviegoers, no movies.

Of course, there were supposed to be movies. These are a few that theaters across the country would have been playing in recent days: “A Quiet Place Part II,” which was set to open just as stay-at-home orders began. The live-action remake of Disney’s “Mulan.” The James Bond film “No Time to Die.” Marvel’s “Black Widow,” which would have opened Friday.

Coming weeks would have seen the releases of “F9,” the next “Fast & Furious” sequel; “Wonder Woman 1984"; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights”; and “Top Gun Maverick.” Those potential blockbusters will have to wait for later theater premieres while dozens of other films head for streaming or premium video-on-demand releases. Meanwhile, the theaters themselves remain in limbo, with no substantial summer slate of films anticipated until July, when it’s hoped that Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” will open, followed by a very different awards season. For as The Times’ Justin Chang and Glenn Whipp discuss in their conversation of summer movies past, there’s nothing like the Xanadu of a giant screen, air conditioning, darkness, Milk Duds and a big Hollywood movie in a packed theater.

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While movie studios are planning safe ways to get cameras rolling again, theater owners work out plans for reopening multiplexes, documentary makers are finding socially distant ways to shoot, and film professionals all over are discussing the ways their jobs will change in a post-quarantine Hollywood.

We asked L.A. Times photographer Jay L. Clendenin to capture Hollywood’s movie houses in this pandemic moment — all lighted up with nothing to play. It’s part of our special report, “Reopening Hollywood: What’s next for movies?”

— Laurie Ochoa, Sunday Calendar editor

The Regal LA Live & 4DX

The Regal LA Live & 4DX theater
The Regal LA Live & 4DX theater complex sits empty at 8 p.m. on a recent Saturday night in downtown Los Angeles.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

I wish it were possible to see a big dumb blockbuster surrounded by people in a movie theater. ... Am I losing my mind, Justin? Are you jonesing for an overpriced box of Milk Duds too?

Glenn Whipp to film critic Justin Chang

Times entertainment columnist Glenn Whipp and film critic Justin Chang sat down to reminisce about their favorite movies and moviegoing experiences of the season.

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For pure summer moviegoing pleasure ... “There’s Something About Mary.” What a movie to see in a packed house; I laughed so hard during the hair-gel scene that I was afraid I might pass out.

Justin Chang to entertainment columnist Glenn Whipp

The New Beverly Cinema

The New Beverly Cinema
The New Beverly Cinema, shown on April 19, is owned by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The New Beverly Cinema
The New Beverly opened as a candy shop in 1929 and later served as nightclub Slapsy Maxie’s. It’s been showing movies since the 1950s.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

REOPENING HOLLYWOOD | SPECIAL REPORT: What’s next for movies?

Theaters opening now, I think, is a bit silly. There’s no content to show, and people are going to be nervous about congregating.

Eric Handler, MKM Partners analyst

Movie theaters might start opening up as soon as mid-June. That’s going to be more complicated than it sounds.

It will be a methodical, gradual return. Folks will come back, we just have to see how quickly.

Ted Mundorff, president of ArcLight Cinemas

The Vista

The Vista
The Vista on Sunset Boulevard, shown April 21, was originally called the Lou Bard Playhouse and opened in 1923. Its first film was “Tips,” starring child star Baby Peggy.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

I don’t really imagine you’re going to be doing giant scenes with thousands of extras right off the bat. But ... I believe protocols will evolve to create workplaces where crews, who are hungry to get back to work, will feel safe.

Tom Rothman, chair of Sony Pictures’ Motion Picture Group

Hollywood is eager to get back to work after the coronavirus outbreak, but union officials, studio executives and others must first agree on new protocols to make filming safe again.

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It’s going to be an interesting test of creative thinking and ingenuity. I don’t think there’s a standard way in which this is all going to progress.

John Sloss, founder of Cinetic Media

The Fairfax Cinema

The Fairfax Cinema
The Fairfax Cinema was showing “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” the week the coronavirus spurred L.A.'s shutdown. The Fairfax was closed in 2017 after harassment allegations and other issues with Cinefamily, which previously programmed the theater. It reopened in 2019.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

I love sharing stories and watching them together on the big screen, being part of audiences that laugh or get scared or get thrilled together. ... We’re going to have to adapt ... but I do think that a desire for the communal experience is who we are.

Kenneth Branagh, actor, producer, director whose “Artemis Fowl” will stream on Disney+

From director’s chairs to executive suites to movie theater seats, no element of Hollywood will be untouched as society movies forward from the pandemic. We asked people all around the industry what the future might look like.

To me, watching a movie on TV or a show on TV or streaming is the equivalent to a Zoom call, whereas seeing a movie in a theater is the equivalent of a live meeting.

Jason Blum, producer, and founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions

The releases of “Trolls World Tour,” “The Lovebirds” and “Artemis Fowl” illustrate the different ways studios are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Los Feliz Theatre

Los Feliz Theatre
Los Feliz Theatre has filled its marquee with quotes from classic movies, including a Charlie Chaplin quote from “The Great Dictator”: “We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Instead of five people going to shoot an interview, maybe there are two. Vérité filmmaking is going to be harder.

Courtney Sexton, senior vice president for CNN Films

From a look at Barack Obama’s White House photographer to a personal production on the streets of Germany, many documentaries are still in production during quarantine thanks to technology, smaller crews and archival footage.

El Capitan

El Capitan Theatre
El Capitan Theatre, in the heart of Hollywood, features “Big Hero 6" character Baymax and a thank you to healthcare workers battling the coronavirus.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

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El Capitan Theatre
Also flashing up on the marquee at El Capitan is a fitting quote from “Toy Story’s” Buzz Lightyear: “The important thing is that we stick together.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
El Capitan
Characters from Disney Pixar’s “The Incredibles” also make an appearance on El Capitan Theatre’s marquee.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

If there’s a movie awards season this year, there’s only one certainty: Like everything else in this pandemic-altered world, it’s not going to look like anything we’ve ever seen before.

Glenn Whipp

With movie theaters closed for at least a significant chunk of the year, the impact on awards season is not yet known, but several Oscar contenders will be ready to go when moviegoing resumes.

The Nuart

The Nuart
The marquee, with the message “Be safe,” is dark on April 18 at Landmark’s Nuart Theater.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

How will Hollywood creatively address the ‘new normal’ where social interactions like hugging, handshakes and other contact between people will be depicted on screen? That won’t be depicted the same way post-pandemic.

Roy Lee, producer, “It Chapter Two”