BRUNSWICK — There will be no lines at the ticket counter at Brunswick’s Regal Cinemas, no smell of popcorn and no stragglers waiting for an end scene after the credits, following the company’s decision to close all 536 locations across the country on Thursday.

The decision, announced Monday, comes just two months after Regal, the second-largest film exhibitor in the U.S. after AMC Theatres, started to reopen in late August. The decision, according to National Public Radio, was announced after the James Bond franchise’s “No Time to Die” was moved to next year, pushing back a release that had already been delayed. 

The temporary closure reflects “an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape and sustained key market closures” due to COVID-19, the chain said. Representatives for Brunswick’s Regal could not be reached for comment. 

Shaun Boyle, left, is the new owner of Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick. With the help of Xavier Gamache, right, and other employees, Boyle hopes to keep the independent theater largely unchanged. Taylor Abbott/Morning Sentinel

The trend is mirrored in the Midcoast and beyond as theaters either remain closed or cautiously reopen despite few releases to bring in moviegoers.

For many, it’s just a waiting game. Brunswick’s independent 74-seat Eveningstar Cinema is ready to reopen but with no new movie releases, owner Shaun Boyle said they’re in a holding pattern. 

Some theaters, like the restaurant/theater chain Smitty’s, are rereleasing classic movies, cult and otherwise (Hocus Pocus and Scream are returning to Topsham’s silver screen this week), or hosting virtual screenings.

Boyle doesn’t feel either is the right option for Eveningstar. 

“It doesn’t make any sense to open up with an old movie and put customers and employees (at risk),” he said. “We’re okay for now, we’ll make it to next year, (but) at some point something’s gotta give.”

The final nail in the coffin against reopening this year was the postponement of Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” starring Timothee Chalamet, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Benicio del Toro among others. It would have been an art-house blockbuster, Boyle said, and Anderson’s movies have historically been very well received at the Eveningstar. 

Pushing back the release was, in his view, yet another example of the studios leaving theaters in the lurch. 

“Theater owners made an investment in taking the precautions to open following state and federal CDC guidelines. I spent thousands of dollars with the hopes of being able to open,” he said, but “the studios have left all of the theater’s out to dry.”

Boyle continued: “I understand as a business they can’t release a big movie with the New York and Los Angeles markets closed, but it has to be give and take. I think when they go to release these movies they studios are going to find a lot less theaters out there because they made decisions without their partners.” 

Despite the long term closure, Boyle isn’t ready to give up on the Eveningstar. 

“A place like the Eveningstar needs to exist,” he said, adding that part of the reason he bought it was to “continue to be it’s shepherd as we move through the years,” and that has not changed. 

It was, of course, a personal investment, but the community value of a downtown theater that a family can walk to after dinner instead of driving out of town to a strip mall can’t be overlooked, he said. “It’s important to ensure its survival.” 

Simply sitting together and sharing the excitement or thrill of a new movie with the rest of the audience is unique to theaters, he added. “I don’t think there’s anything that can replace that at home right now… I miss it immensely.” 

That’s part of why Boyle has decided to keep the doors closed. 

Enforcing social distancing, only filling 25% of the theater and making sure everyone wears a mask would take away from that experience and just be sad, he said. 

Smitty’s Cinemas in Topsham reopened in July after a four-month closure, anticipating some big Hollywood releases, only for them to be pushed back. 

Instead, Smitty’s officials brainstormed other ways to bring people to the theater, Al Waitt, director of operations said Thursday. 

They brought in smaller independent films and classics alike, offering beloved films like “Jurassic Park” and “Jaws” at a reduced rate. “Bill and Ted’s Excelled Adventure” “turned out to be excellent for us,” and brought in a crowd, Waitt said, and this week’s screening of “Hocus Pocus” was the busiest the theater has been since reopening. A special, 21+ happy hour showing of the popular Halloween film is scheduled for Saturday, with drink specials and themed menu items. 

With six screens and over 700 seats, the theater has plenty of space to spread out. Staff has received COVID safety training, and the theater has enhanced cleaning, sanitation stations and mandates mask-wearing, Waitt said.

For those still leery of sitting in the theater with strangers, Smitty’s is offering theater rentals for up to 20 people with unlimited soda and popcorn for $250. Patrons can select a Smitty’s offering or bring a DVD of their choosing to watch on the big screen.

“Unless you’re a real movie buff there’s haven’t been a lot (of movies) to drive people to the theater,” Waitt said, “so we’re trying to do some funky things” to bring in viewers.  

“I have Netflix just like everybody else,” Waitt said, “but going to a movie is an experience.” Sharing that with someone, seeing your favorite movie on the big screen with a beer or a burger “heightens the experience,” he said.

Like other theaters, Smitty’s is awaiting the release of the next hit films, but until then, the theater, which has locations in Maine and New Hampshire, will continue to offer seasonal and festive films. 

In Brunswick, Frontier has been closed, like Eveningstar, since March, and like Boyle, Program Director Sean Morin misses having the community gathered for a shared experience. 

The 62-seat theater, the restaurant, the cafe and the event space that makeup Frontier are dark, and while Morin said it’s still completely unknown when the spaces may reopen, the business has had to find other ways to stay afloat. 

Reopening the theater would not be “economically viable,” especially with so few movies being released. 

“It’s hard to compete with streaming film at home, which is safe, convenient and inexpensive,” he said. “I don’t think we would want to put people at risk when there’s another safe and viable option for them.” 

Instead, Frontier launched virtual programming, offering many of the same documentaries and other films, thanks to the theater’s distributors. 

After the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Frontier brought back “RBG.” In the face of the recent protests against racial injustice, they offered “The Fight” about the ACLU and the film “John Lewis: Good Trouble” started showing just two days before the late senator’s passing.

Other titles, “Nomad” about lifelong outdoor enthusiast Bruce Chatwin and “Epicentro,” a documentary about post-colonial Cuba, among others, are also available. Half the proceeds go back to support Frontier. 

Morin hopes these films will help facilitate conversations at home, something he said he misses at Frontier. 

Frontier’s goal with the theater has always been to promote togetherness and share a common voice and cultural feedback. 

“We’re missing that all around,” he said. “We provide the culture and the feedback from the audience is everything to us.” 

For the other elements of Frontier, the cafe and restaurant, Morin said they have been re-envisioning the space, and are preparing to launch a curbside market with takeout style meals at the end of the month. 

Frontier is also looking to the community (as well as Congress) for help and donations to stay viable. 

“We have to do something else,” he said. “It’s a real pivot point. We won’t survive if we don’t do something else.”

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