Drive-ins draw crowds as survey shows audiences are keen to return to cinemas

Drive-in cinemas in Adelaide and Heddon Greta near Newcastle resumed trading last Friday, followed on Monday by the Lunar drive-in in Dandenong, drawing big crowds, as a survey of more than 20,000 Australians showed 98 per cent look forward to cinemas re-opening.

According to the research conducted in April-May by Event Cinemas, which was independently reviewed by Movio, Pollinate and Deloitte, 94 per cent of respondents said they intend to attend at the same frequency or more, while 83 per cent indicated they would go back within 12 weeks of re-opening.

The findings will dispel concerns that some people, particularly older cinemagoers, may be wary of congregating in large numbers due to the pandemic.

“The survey is very encouraging and accords with the feedback from the vast majority of our customers,” says Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell, who owns eight cinemas in regional NSW and Queensland.

Dell is vice-president of Independent Cinemas Australia, which has asked the NSW government to speedily fix a date when cinemas can re-open and specify the conditions attached.

Last week Palace Cinemas announced its national circuit will open its doors on July 2, and Dell is also aiming for that date.

Wallis Cinemas’ Mainline drive-in in Gepps Cross screened Sonic the Hedgehog and Bloodshot on Friday night and Jumanji: The Next Level and The Invisible Man on Saturday-Sunday.

Delighted with the turn-out, Wallis Cinemas senior adviser Bob Parr says: “This shows how eager people are to go to a movie on a big screen, even with titles which had played previously.”

Parr regards the current limit of 80 people per complex in South Australia as non-viable but he hopes the rest of the circuit will be back in business by June 25. But he cautions: “Distributors can’t get serious about releases until all states are on board and we have enough admissions to make a profit.”

The new Lunar Cafe at the Lunar drive-in.

Scott Seddon’s Heddon Greta location showed the Jumanji sequel and Bloodshot. Nationwide, the relatively small number of films in release on 27 screens generated $161,000 last weekend, up 75 per cent on the prior frame, according to Numero.

The Lunar drive-in co-owned by David Kilderry is playing eight films across four screens, including the Grease sing-along, 1917, The Invisible Man and Bloodshot.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Luke Mackey, Event Cinemas director of entertainment, said: “Our research tells us that there is an overwhelming, pent up demand for people to return to cinemas.

“While we are yet to confirm a date, we will re-open our doors in conjunction with government directions and when new films are available.”

Event Cinemas will implement a custom-built Intelligent Social Distanced Booking system, which includes contact-less booking and check-in via the Event Cinemas booking website and app, cashless operations on site, multiple hand sanitiser stations, capacity limits where applicable and increased frequency of cleaning.

Meanwhile exhibitors the world over are fervently hoping Warner Bros. sticks to the planned July 16 premiere of Chris Nolan’s time-travel thriller Tenet, which would be the first major release of the northern summer.

The distributor reportedly won’t launch the film unless 80 per cent of cinemas in the US and internationally are operating. That may be a tall order, particularly in the US where cinemas in COVID-19 hot spots like New York and Los Angeles may not be allowed to trade until a vaccine is discovered – and that could be 18 months away.

Dell adds: “The big question marks are over California and NY at this stage but we hope that even if one or both of those markets do not open, that Warners will proceed with launching the movie and Disney will confirm Mulan for the following week.”

View infographic here.