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Friday September 30th

COVID-19 concerns force Varsity Theatre to close for two weeks

The Varsity Theatre on Franklin St. will be showing new movies this season.
Buy Photos The Varsity Theatre is temporarily closing due to COVID-19.

The Varsity Theatre, located on Franklin Street, announced Tuesday in a Facebook post that it will be closed for the next two weeks due to COVID-19. 

The theater cited CDC's guidance to limit gathering sizes to fewer than 50 people as a factor in their decision. The Daily Tar Heel reached out to the Varsity via phone and email for comment on this story and did not receive a response.

The Varsity is the latest theater to temporarily shutter due to COVID-19, as AMC Theatres, the world’s largest theater chain, has closed all locations for the next six to 12 weeks and Regal Cinemas has closed all of its U.S. theaters until further notice.

Josh Martin, a junior film studies and media studies major who writes for Film Inquiry and Inside the Film Room, said that the theater’s two-week closure presents an optimistic timeline for a return to normalcy. 

“AMC just committed to closing for six to 12 weeks,” Martin said. “I think that’s going to be a more realistic timeframe. The longer this goes on, the more the smaller theaters, and the bigger theaters to a lesser extent, are in a certain level of jeopardy.”

If the theater does reopen after two weeks, as currently planned, it will do so in a market where most of the major films set to be released in the near future have been delayed. 

“No Time to Die,” the 25th film in the James Bond franchise, moved its release to November and “Fast and Furious 9” moved to April 2021.  “A Quiet Place: Part II,” “Mulan” and “Black Widow” are also seeking new release dates.

In addition to pushing back their tentpole films, studios are experimenting with decreasing the amount of time between a film’s theatrical release and its availability at home

Universal is making “The Invisible Man,” “Emma” and “The Hunt,” its three most recent theatrical releases, available for rental as early as Friday for $19.99, and will do the same for “Trolls World Tour” on April 10.

Martin said he thinks this experimentation is a game-changer, though he expects studios to hold their blockbusters for theatrical release.

“If this goes on for a long time and if people get really accustomed to watching new release movies in their homes instantly for a relatively low cost compared to the increasing stress and concessions plus premium ticket prices of the theatrical experience, I don’t know how quickly people are going to back to the way things were,” Martin said.

However, Martin feels that the Varsity is well-suited for such a change to occur.

“The Varsity seems to thrive on particular movies,” Martin said. “When they get a horror movie in there or a superhero blockbuster, it’s packed. All the students come out because it’s such a UNC-Chapel Hill student-oriented theater.”

The fallout of studios’ experimentation may affect the livelihood of independent theaters, such as the Varsity, well into the future.

“The real question is going to be how much closing for extended periods of time diminishes the appeal of movie theaters, especially smaller, community-based theaters like the Varsity,” Martin said.

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