AMC Theaters announces it will close all locations until further notice

AMC Theaters is the latest theater chain to announce it will close all cinemas because of the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, Regal Cinemas, the nation’s second-largest chain, said its locations will close Tuesday.

A one-sentence announcement was posted at the top of AMC Theaters website, “All AMC theatres are temporarily closed in accordance with local and federal guidelines. They will re-open when those guidelines allow.”

Earlier Monday, AMC said it would limit audiences to less than 50 people for every screening to facilitate social distancing.

The coronavirus pandemic also cracked Hollywood’s traditional theatrical window. Universal Pictures on Monday said it will make its current and upcoming films available for on-demand rental, becoming the first major studio to turn directly to home viewing in light of the virus.

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The studio said it will put movies currently in theaters — “Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” “Emma” — up for rental beginning as early as Friday. It also said that “Trolls World Tour,” one of the only major releases left on the April film release calendar, will debut in theaters and on-demand services simultaneously. A 48-hour rental will cost $19.99.

The move came as theaters worldwide have closed and many North American cinemas were shuttering. On Sunday, the mayors of New York and Los Angeles ordered their cities’ theaters closed. Theaters in Massachusetts and Quebec also shuttered. Overseas, most European cinemas have shut down, as have those in China, India and elsewhere.

Over the weekend, ticket sales plunged to their lowest levels in at least 20 years at the box office for U.S. and Canadian theaters. Not since a quiet September weekend in 2000 has weekend box office revenue been so low, according to data firm Comscore. More people went to the movies the weekend after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable,” said NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell in a statement. “We hope and believe that people will still go to the movies in theaters where available, but we understand that for people in different areas of the world that is increasingly becoming less possible.”

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The extraordinary move marked what could be seen as either a watershed moment for Hollywood or an aberration due to extremely unusual circumstances. With few exceptions, the major studios have guarded the usual 90-day exclusivity window even as digital newcomers like Netflix and Amazon have challenged it. For the studios, box office still represents the industry’s primary revenue generator. Last week, the Motion Picture Association said worldwide ticket sales reached $42.2 billion last year.

The National Association of Theater Owners, the trade group that represents movie exhibitors, declined to comment.