Movie Theaters Turn to Matthew McConaughey, Summer Blockbusters to Get Audiences Back in Cinemas

Movie theaters are ready to welcome back audiences.

That’s the message of The Big Screen Is Back, a new initiative launched by cinema operators, studio executives, talent agents, and filmmakers that kicked off as part of Sunday’s Academy Awards pre-show. During the lead up to the telecast, a clip with an introduction by Matthew McConaughey aired, highlighting some of the tens of thousands of movie theater workers who were laid off or furloughed during the pandemic and have slowly been returning to work. It’s part of a larger initiative, one that will continue for months as new blockbusters slowly start rolling out on cinema screens.

“We have to let people know that movie theaters are open and they’re ready to welcome people back,” says Megan Crawford, CAA’s head of motion picture marketing and one of the driving forces behind the campaign. “Honestly, movie theaters are better than ever and because of the [safety] regulations, they’re much cleaner than they’ve ever been and the atmosphere is probably more inviting than it had been before all of this happened.”

The Big Screen Is Back is being primarily funded by the National Association of Theatre Owners, the exhibition industry’s main lobbying arm. However, it is drawing on the expertise of a number of Hollywood leaders. That group includes awards guru Cynthia Swartz, public relations consultant Terry Curtin, Imax entertainment president Megan Colligan, Fox Networks Group marketing executive Wendy Lightbourn, former Paramount distribution chief Kyle Davies, and Showtime executive Brian Dailey. The Motion Picture Association of America is also involved. Right now, the plan is for spots to run on social media and in movie theaters. A television strategy is still being weighed. The plan is to lean in to the human stories, focusing on the employees whose work was interrupted by the health crisis, as well as highlight their love of movies.

“It’s important that we highlight the 153,000 Americans that work in theaters,” says Crawford. “When you watch these interviews, they’re really emotional. They remind you of the passion that theater workers have for cinema.”

The Big Screen Is Back will also use more A-listers on the level of McConaughey. The group hopes to tamp the stars of upcoming summer blockbusters to tape spots, which can also serve as a showcase for the big movies that are on tap for popcorn season.

Crawford argues that message is important. People don’t just need to know about the extra cleaning that theaters are undertaking or the social distancing measures they are implementing, they also need exciting movies to see. Right now, most of the films in cinemas are old or are simultaneously showing on Netflix, HBO Max or other streaming services. That could start to change with the release of films like “Fast and Furious” spinoff “F9” or “A Quiet Place Part II.”

“If we track what happened in other markets that came out of COVID before we did like Japan or China, when the product came back, the people did too,” says Crawford. “We have an incredible summer of films coming. We need to let audiences know what they can look forward to.”

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