December 2, 2022

Many CT movie theaters have closed or struggled since pandemic: ‘You will see more of this’

4 min read

This year has resulted in profound changes on the movie theater business in Connecticut with multiple movie theater locations closing and others getting new owners as the effects the pandemic and changes within the film industry reshape the landscape.

Five theater locations have closed permanently since the start of the year with a sixth, the Niantic Cinema 5, taking a temporary hiatus from operations between September and December.

The most recent closings occurred at the end of last month with Tennessee-based Regal Cinemas shutting down locations in Waterbury and Stonington, the result of the early September U.S. bankruptcy filing of the chain’s British corporate parent, Cineworld. A third movie theater closed in Westbrook at the end of September that was part of the West Virginia-based Marquee Cinemas chain.

Regal Cinemas’ Branford location closed at the beginning of 2022 and the independently owned Cine 4 theater on Middletown Avenue in New Haven closed at the end of the summer and has been sold to a company that will develop a early childhood education facility on the site.

While some theaters were closing during the pandemic, others were changing ownership.

Massachusetts-based Apple Cinemas took over operation of a pair of Hartford movie theaters in 2021, the former Bow Tie Cinemas location on New Park Avenue and the former Spotlight Theater on Front Street. And in April of this year, t he AMC movie theater chain acquired 7 Bow Tie Cinema locations, including five Connecticut theaters in Stamford, Norwalk and Trumbull .

Tom Garrett, an associate professor and chairman of the communication, film and media studies department at the University of New Haven, said he expects the pace of theaters closing will continue to grow.

“I would think you will see more of this,” said Garrett. “This is something that has been building for at least 15 years as more movie quality television programs made people more accustomed to not going to theaters. The pandemic is kind of the final nail in the coffin: It fast-tracked the use of streaming for people who weren’t accustomed to watching things online.”

Fritz Staudmyer, Quinnipiac University’s chairman of the film, television and media arts departments, said a variety of factors are likely to have contributed to the theater closings.

“People still have a lingering fear about the health issues associated with being in a theater,” Staudmyer said. “At the same time, audiences have become more accustomed to watching movies from their living rooms. With those two factors combined, it’s going to have a lasting effect.’

But in spite of the changes the pandemic has brought to the movie business, Staudmyer said he doesn’t foresee movie theaters disappearing completely.

“The communal experience a theater provides is priceless,” he said.

The decision about whether to return to your local movie theater varies from person to person.

Jim Krupp Sr., of Wallingford, said health concerns keep him from going to movie theaters. And Matthew McDonald said he refuses to go into a movie theater because he has caught COVID-19 three times as a result of working as a bus driver.

“People don’t stay home when they are sick and I don’t want to get it again,” McDonald said, responding to a social media post from Hearst Connecticut Media.

Ramon Sanchez said he had not been in a movie theater since the start of the pandemic before this summer when “Top Gun: Maverick” was released in theaters.

“The pandemic has 100 percent slowed down my movie-going habits,” Sanchez said. “I hadn’t seen a movie in a theater until the Top Gun sequel came out. I feel more comfortable going now, but I am super selective on what I watch I will watch in theaters.”

Sanchez said the reduced window of time between when movies appear in theaters and when they make it to streaming services has helped justify his decision to be selective about what he sees in movie theaters.

Others, like LeeAnne Santopietro and Greg St. Martin, said the lack of quality movies, not health concerns, is what keeps them from going to their local theaters.

“I seldom go to theater; Content is the issue,” St. Martin said. “It needs to be a really, really, really special movie. COVID has no bearing on theater attendance for me.”

The owners of the Niantic Cinema 5, an independent family-run theater also cited a lack of available compelling content for their recent decision to temporarily close the theater through mid-December.

“Since we re-opened the cinema last year, we felt the continual lack of quality content to draw the public out to the cinema,” the owners said in post on the theater’s Facebook page. “We see this continuing through mid December.”

Staudmyer said super hero movies and other franchise driven films like will continue be multiplex staples. But he said small independent films that once were staples of art movies houses have found a home with streaming services.