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COVID-19 shut down most movie theaters more than a year ago. Some will never reopen, but many are now back. And as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, Hollywood now wants audiences back, too.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: At an AMC theater in Los Angeles last week, Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke on behalf of Hollywood with a twist on his famous movie line from "Terminator."
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ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: We'll be back.
DEL BARCO: At the event titled, The Big Screen Is Back, the action star and former California governor pitched the idea of a movie theater comeback.
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SCHWARZENEGGER: Over this last year, people watched movies on the little iPhone...
SCHWARZENEGGER: ...And the iPad. And they're missing the special effects and visual effects and all the great stuff that you usually see on the big screen.
DEL BARCO: Executives from all the major Hollywood film studios presented sizzle reels of trailers for upcoming films they want audiences to see on big screens with big sound and, of course, popcorn.
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DEL BARCO: Action movies like "F9," the latest installment of the "Fast And Furious" saga, and the upcoming musical "In The Heights."
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Fiesta in the heights.
DEL BARCO: More than 60% of U.S. movie theaters have reopened, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. And the National Research Group, the NRG, reports that 70% of moviegoers are now comfortable returning to them.
ETHAN TITELMAN: Audiences are optimistic. They really want to get back into the theaters as soon as there really are, you know, movies for them to see.
DEL BARCO: Ethan Titelman heads the NRG, which found that audiences do want face-mask policies in theaters to continue, but they're more comfortable loosening the social distancing rules. He expects about 90% of moviegoers to feel even more ready to go back when the vaccines are available to everyone. His market research firm interviewed a million moviegoers in 13 countries. They cited advantages to watching movies in theaters together.
TITELMAN: Going to the movies makes for a much more memorable event. And going to see movies in the theater also forces us, hopefully, to turn off our phones and fully immerse ourselves in the storytelling.
DEL BARCO: During the pandemic, some film studios experimented with premiering new movies on streaming platforms or video on demand simultaneously.
JEFF GOLDSTEIN: We talk about the big screen is back. Well, here at Warner Brothers, we never left.
DEL BARCO: Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., told NPR that since last summer, his studio offered new movies in theaters and on HBO Max, its streaming service. That strategy upset some theater owners and filmmakers.
But director Nicole Riegel said she understands why her upcoming film "Holler" will be in theaters and on demand June 11.
NICOLE RIEGEL: There's still a lot of people out there who are sick, who are losing loved ones. I don't think theaters opening their doors means the pandemic goes away. I think there are people who really do want to see my film, but they cannot make it to a movie theater, and I want them to have that option.
DEL BARCO: Still, during the event, Maggie Q, who co-stars in the upcoming action film "The Protege," argued for actually going to the movies.
MAGGIE Q: We all need human connection. And there is something magical about sitting in a dark theater with an audience experiencing emotion together.
DEL BARCO: And filmmaker J.J. Abrams said he remains a cinephile.
JJ ABRAMS: Being back in a movie theater, I actually feel like it's like inhaling oxygen again. As much as it's fun to watch on streaming and being at home and due to convenience, it doesn't have the energy. It doesn't have the power the way it does being in a theater. Drama, comedy, action-adventure, superhero movie, animated - I don't care what it is. Get me to the movies.
DEL BARCO: He'll have his chance this weekend when "F9" opens in theaters only. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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