Writing about the weekly box office totals has become more depressing each week, so I have missed a couple weeks since the last update, but things haven’t gotten any better. Kevin Costner’s “Let Him Go,” was able to hit $4.1 million, but that’s because there’s been such a scarcity of new releases. Most of the big movies like James Bond’s “No Time To Die,” and “Dune” were pushed back to 2021 so audiences willing to hit the movie theater are frothing for anything.

We’re still waiting to see if Patty Jenkins “Wonder Woman 1984” will actually hit on December 25 as COVID-19 cases hit the 100K daily mark here in the United States. As fast as it is rising, don’t be surprised to see another shutdown during the holiday season.

Focus Features has been able to stay active during the pandemic due to parent company Universal Pictures inking a deal with AMC Theatres. This deal allows Universal and Focus to release their movies with on-demand platforms within 17 days of the theatrical debuts. AMC received a cut of the digital revenues. This is why Focus Features is seeing two of their films in the top 2 slows of the box office charts.

Joe Biden, finally being declared the next president of the United States also stole the spotlight as more people felt like dancing in the streets (literally) rather than holing up in a dark box. Theater owners are stepping up the pressure on Congress that they can’t wait for Biden to get into the White House in January, They need desperate action now.

John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, is issuing the dire warning on behalf of the theaters who make up his trade organization. Unless Congress passes “Save Our Stages,” a bipartisan effort to get billions of dollars of grants to concert venues and theaters hit hard by COVID-19 shutdowns, the exhibition industry will suffer from a devastating wave of bankruptcies and liquidations. Fithian says the clock is ticking and he is pushing for the bill to get passed in the “lame duck” session that will take place between November and Biden’s inauguration in January. Despite earning support from both Republicans and Democrats, that might be a tall order. “Save Our Stages” is part of a larger stimulus bill, the details of which are being fought over by the two parties, who remain very far apart.

“Let Him Go” stars Kevin Costner as a retired sheriff and Diane Lane as his wife. The couple leave their Montana ranch to rescue their young grandson from the clutches of a dangerous family living in the Dakotas — a confrontation that ends in violence. Lesley Manville, who scored an Oscar nomination for her work in another Focus release, 2017 “Phantom Thread,” co-stars. “Let Him Go” was written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, the filmmaker behind “The Family Stone.”

“War With Grandpa,” a Robert De Niro family comedy from 101 Studios, took third place, grossing $1.5 million to bring its total after three weeks to $13.4 million. Open Road’s “Honest Thief,” a thriller with Liam Neeson, was fourth with $1.1 million, pushing its haul to $11.2 million.

Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” rounded out the top five with $905,000 domestically. That pushed the sci-fi thriller’s stateside haul to $55.1 million. Globally, the movie has grossed $350.8 million. Given that Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, has announced that “Tenet” will launch on home entertainment in December, the movie has largely wrapped up its box office run. Given its $200 million price tag and marketing costs, “Tenet” will likely fall short of profitability.

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Warner Bros. said “The Witches,” the Robert Zemeckis adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel, generated $3.5 million in overseas box office, bringing its total to $10.1 million. In the U.S., “The Witches” opted to debut on HBO Max instead of screening in theaters.

Disney’s re-release of “Toy Story,” picked up $505,000 some 25 years after it first opened in theaters and became a family classic. The Mouse House has been pulling in box office from their re-releases like “Hocus Pocus.”

At this point, theater owners like AMC are happy to take whatever then can for ticket sales, but as box office numbers continue staying under $10 million with most under $1 million, it’s hard to say how long they’ll be able to remain open. It “Wonder Woman 1984” decide to push off until 2021 (it’s very likely to do that), don’t expect your favorite multi-plex to stay open much longer.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but this is what a pandemic allowed to run rampant does to our world.

North America Box Office

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Box office number courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

1. “Let Him Go,” $4.1 million.

2. “Come Play,” $1.7 million.

3. “The War with Grandpa,” $1.5 million.

4. “Honest Thief,” $1.1 million.

5. “Tenet,” $905,000.

6. “Toy Story,” $505,000 (Re-release).

7. “The Empty Man,” $277,000.

8. “Spell,” $150,000.

9. “The New Mutants,” $110,000.

10. “Love and Monsters,” $100,000.

11. “The Dark and the Wicked,” $65,000.

12. “After We Collided,” $62,000.

13. “2 Hearts,” $61,000.

14. “The Call,” $16,131.

15. The Spongebob Movie,” $14,000.

What To Expect From Movie Theaters Now

It’s been nearly three months since movie theaters started reopening in the U.S., but there is still a fair amount of consumer confusion about moviegoing in the COVID-19 era.

Movie studios and theater owners have found themselves in the unique position of having to re-educate audiences on how to see movies now. Warner Bros. even recently revamped the website for “Tenet,” Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi espionage thriller, to help take some of the mystery out of going back to the movies.

north American theaters open but barely surviving tenet

Here’s what you can expect from theaters now.

What City/States Are Theaters Open?

Indoor movie theaters remain open in most states, except New Mexico, although some are on a county-by-county basis, including California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin. Last weekend, theaters were cleared to open begin opening in some New York State counties at under 50% capacity and this weekend San Francisco will join in too. New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles remain closed, however.

Which Theaters Are Even Open?

Regal theaters are currently closed in the U.S, and independent cinemas vary by location, but AMC Theaters (the nation’s biggest chain) and Cinemark are largely up and running. Approximately 54% of screens are open in the U.S., according to the National Association of Theater Owners.

What New Movies Are Coming Out?

Yes, there are movies being released in theaters almost every week, although there have been quite a few major fall movies, like “Black Widow,” “No Time To Die,” and “West Side Story,” that have moved to 2021.

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The biggest release since reopening began in late August is “Tenet,” which is still playing on around 1,800 screens. Current offerings widely available also include the Liam Neeson thriller, “Honest Thief,” a PG-13 horror movie with Gillian Jacobs called “Come Play,” the R-rated horror “The Empty Man” and the comedy “The War With Grandpa” with Robert De Niro. There are also “retro” releases, like “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Hocus Pocus” and “Monsters Inc,” which are available for $5 tickets at AMC. And this weekend, Fathom Events is bringing “Apollo 13” back to theaters for its 25th anniversary.

Theater Safety Precautions

During the long shutdown, the National Association of Theater Owners helped spearhead the development of a sweeping set of protocols and guidelines called CinemaSafe that over 400 companies representing over 3,100 locations have committed to. They include mandatory masks for employees and patrons, social distancing, reduced capacity, mobile ticketing, modified concessions, air filtration, employee training and enhanced cleaning. Anyone not feeling well is also asked to stay home.

What’s Up With Concessions? Can You Buy Them Now?

Yes, in most locations. San Francisco has a concession ban and Chicago has recently suspended dining and bar services at theaters. Customers are generally allowed to remove their masks while consuming concessions.

What Viewing Options Do You Have?

There are a few options for seeing movies. You can buy tickets regularly, wear a mask and social distance in the theater (theaters with assigned seating do this automatically and others have taped off seats and rows). Or, some chains like AMC and Cinemark and some theaters are renting screens for private viewing parties for up to 20 people. Pricing varies by movie (new movies tend to start at $149 whereas back catalog classics can be $99) and location. Cinemark is even offering “ private gaming party ” pricing ($99 for 2 hours) where you can play your own video game on the big screen.

Just How Safe Is It Now?

Health experts recommend wearing masks and maintaining social distance when outside and avoid going out when sick. Indoor spaces like movie theaters, restaurants and malls mean prolonged exposure, which could mean greater risk.

“At this point, with cases surging, I’m not sure that being indoors for two hours with folks is a really good idea,” said Lisa M. Lee, a public health expert at Virginia Tech.

Private viewing parties — with safeguards — might be a way to lessen the risk, however.

“If you have, for example, a family or a pandemic pod that you stayed with and everyone has agreed to be safe and to maintain physical distance and masking and all the precautions, that could be an option,” she said.

But in general, drive-ins or an outdoor screening “would certainly be a lot safer,” Lee said.

“We’re never going to have a zero-risk situation with this because we have far too much community spread at this point, so we all have to pick carefully what we’re willing to risk and that’s an individual decision,” Lee continued. “But it’s also really important that we avoid putting other people at risk, which is the issue in a closed space with other people that you don’t know are infected.”