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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Niantic Cinema closes its doors temporarily, says there aren’t enough good movies out there

    East Lyme ― Niantic Cinema is taking a hiatus while it waits for Hollywood to start putting out more good films.

    George Mitchell, president of Niantic Cinema Corporation, said the five-screen theater will close Thursday. He plans to reopen in mid-December.

    In a phone interview this week, he blamed the pandemic for a lack of quality movies being released to theaters. He said the success of early summer blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick” and locally popular “Elvis” wasn’t enough to sustain operations through a dismal August.

    “If Hollywood could have produced a few films for us, we’d be able to stay open,” Mitchell said. “Right now, we’re just going to take a break and see what they come out with.”

    He singled out “Beast” as one of the big disappointments. The thriller about a family terrorized by a huge lion is perhaps best known for the scene in which Idris Elba punches the lion in the face.

    While movie review website RogerEbert.com described the movie as “better than most mid-August releases,” Mitchell said it wasn’t a popular draw.

    “Basically, we’ve had some terrible films and nobody’s coming to see them,” the cinema owner said.

    The Associated Press last month reported about a third fewer movies have made it to theaters for wide release this year compared to before the pandemic – both due to residual delays in Hollywood’s production pipeline caused by earlier COVID-19 shutdowns and because a lot of movies go straight to streaming.

    The Day archives show the Mitchell family purchased the single-screen, second-run theater in 1978 for $90,000. Mitchell at the time predicted the public would have an appetite for more recently released films.

    The theater has predominantly shown first-run films since 1981.

    Now, the pandemic is exacerbating a trend Mitchell said he’s been seeing for decades.

    “I would say from our peak, business has been going down a couple percent a year for the last 20 years,” he said.

    Several sequels are expected this fall, including “Halloween Ends” in October, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in November, and “Avatar: The Way of Water” in December. A beleaguered industry is hoping for success from the popular franchises.

    In another sign of the times, Cineworld Group LLC, the parent company of Regal Cinemas, filed for bankruptcy last week in the Southern District of Texas, according to court filings.

    The acquisition of Regal Cinemas in 2017 made the company the second largest cinema operator in the world.

    Regal Cinemas includes theaters in Stonington and Waterford. The company in a press release said it expects its theaters to remain open “without interruption” throughout the Chapter 11 process, even as it referenced a planned “real estate optimization strategy in the US.”

    Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said the pandemic was “an incredibly difficult time” for the business, citing the enforced closure of theaters and “huge disruption to film schedules.”

    At Niantic Cinema, the small business reemerged from the pandemic in June of last year with help from $284,148 in federal pandemic-relief aid through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. The initiative was authorized by Congress to support day-to-day business expenses.

    Mitchell said all the money was spent on things like salaries, utilities, licensing fees and insurance.

    “It’s a huge expense, running a cinema,” he said.

    While he would not comment on any plans to drive more business to the cinema when they reopen, he said the corporation “has some feelers out.”

    Pressed for details, he said that does not mean selling the business. But he did not discount options like more varied film offerings or updates to the facility.

    “We’re going to look at everything,” he said. “Probably, we’ll do some renovations.”

    Mitchell said he’s been told by industry professionals that movie production will pick up at the end of the year.

    He echoed a common theme amid the pandemic, and in its aftermath, when he said “nothing is for certain.”

    e.regan@theday.com

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