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Without Any New Films To Show, Kansas Movie Theaters Won't Bother Reopening Yet

Movie theaters like this one in Wichita will be able to reopen on Friday.
Hugo Phan
Movie theaters like this one in Wichita will be able to reopen on Friday.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has given movie theaters the green light to reopen Friday, but the coronavirus pandemic means there aren't any new movies to show.

Despite getting the legal go-ahead to reopen, movie theaters say that’s not going to happen — it's much more complicated than just hitting “play.”

“There’s no product available. All the films are put on hold because of COVID-19, so there’s not really any new films you could play,” Brian Mossman says.

He’s the vice president of Fine Arts Theatres’ the Rio and the Glenwood, both in Overland Park. Mossman says he doesn’t want to show old films, because that’s not their model, and because his patrons would have already seen them.

The earliest a new fine arts film will be released is mid-June, Mossman says.

For B&B Theatre, director of public relations Paul Farnsworth says release dates for new mainstream films are even farther out — the soonest he can screen a new film is July 17.

“Hollywood is effectively closed as well,” Farnsworth says. “The conversations that we’re having internally have to do with what older content or classic titles can we put on screen that would be appealing to our guests, and how long could we sustain that?”

For the past few weeks, certain Missouri B&B locations have offered private screenings of older family-friendly films like "Harry Potter," "The Wizard of Oz," "The Goonies," and "Wonder Woman" for groups of 10.

Farnsworth says B&B Theatres has used the same films at its two drive-ins in Moberly and Independence, Missouri, and they’re selling out, albeit at a much lower capacity than normal.

A staffer changes the sign for the Glenwood Arts Theater in Overland Park, Kansas.
Julie Denesha
A staffer changes the sign for the Glenwood Arts Theater in Overland Park, back in the days when there were new movies to be had.

In Kansas, Boulevard Drive-In hopes to reopen in June for its 70th season, according to their movie programmer, John Shipp.

Shipp, too, cites the obstacle of no first-run movie availability, and adds that Boulevard doesn’t have the same staff or resources as big theaters to navigate the new challenges.

All theaters seem to be holding their breath for one film: Christopher Nolan’s "Tenet," which is scheduled for release July 17.

Farnsworth says, “People are excited about that film, and I think it’ll do a lot of business if it can open.”

While patrons can't pack into a theater, some theaters have diversified their efforts to drum up business or support furloughed employees.

Fox Theatre in Atchison and B&B’s Overland Park and Shawnee locations periodically offer buckets of popcorn for curbside pickup.

At B&B, 100% of popcorn proceeds will go toward health insurance for furloughed workers.

Other theaters, such as The Tivoli, Fine Arts Theatre and AMC, offer virtual screenings of films through their websites, for a price.

Mossman says the streaming service is a good way to make a “few pennies” and connect with their customer base.

And, unlike bigger streaming services, the offerings are curated.

Mossman says, “If we’re not going to play it in the theater, we’re not going to offer it as a virtual booking. We’re trying to program as if we were open for our customers.”

But for movie-goers who relish holding a tub of popcorn in a dark theater, surrounded by other fans, the wait continues.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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