Monday, June 5, 2023
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Theater Owners: Biden Economy Is Crushing Us

by Amber Simmons

Hollywood went all-in on Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential election. And they’ll do it again in 2024.

That decision may come back to haunt the industry. In many ways, it already has.

Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery took turns belt-tightening over the past two years. Disney is in the process of firing 7,000 workers following its hard economic news.

Studios that once embraced woke content are realizing they better start canceling clunkers, and fast. Think Disney+’s decision to ax both “Willow” and “National Treasure: Edge of History” after one season each.

Now, it’s theater owners’ turn to complain about the Biden economy. Except they don’t actually say the president’s name.

Variety reached out to multiple owners to get their take on the theatrical model, what’s working at this point in the culture and what they’d like to see change moving ahead.

Sean Gamble, CEO of Cinemark, weighs in on how Biden’s supply chain crisis, weakness on the world stage and flailing economy has impacted his business.

“Sixty percent of the canola oil that we use to pop our popcorn comes from Ukraine. So the war had a big effect on access to canola oil. When there were disruptions to the supply chain, we couldn’t get medium popcorn bags. We had to get creative. Everything seems to have gotten more expensive to make.”

Gabriel Saluan, VP and owner of Atlas Theaters, told Variety that a possible recession could negatively impact his business.

“We believe in a value-driven concession stand. You’ll get a lot for your money. Also at the box office, you need a decent price structure to allow it to be affordable.”

Shelli Taylor, CEO of Alamo Drafthouse, said the Biden inflation impacts “everything” in her business, “from wages to construction materials.”

“Because of the COVID shutdown, we didn’t know what was available. We’re famous for our pickle fries, and we couldn’t serve them for a year because we couldn’t get the right pickles.”

There’s a bright side to Biden’s bumbling, it appears.

Mark O’Meara, owner, of University Mall Theaters in Northern Virginia, suggests a recession could actually help theaters.

“Historically, it’s always good for us. When times are tough, people go to the movies. They want to escape. It’s that simple.”

The owners agreed that more family-friendly movies would boost their individual coffers and that “Top Gun: Maverick,” as Steven Spielberg told star Tom Cruise last year, helped save the theatrical model.

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