Modest Hopes for Big Screens
The pandemic didn’t just disrupt the movie theater business, it fundamentally changed the way most Americans consume entertainment. Yet a couple iconic local movie houses are coming back to life this spring, resuscitated by industry stalwarts who believe audiences will return for the experience.
MSP Film Society, which puts on the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, is taking over operations of the St. Anthony Main Theatre, owned by local restaurateur John Rimarcik. Newly renovated and renamed MSP Film at the Main, its lease is paid by donors, supporters, and grants.
Another local landmark, the Edina Theatre, will follow with a June reopening after a $1.5 million facelift that includes new seats, a bar, and a stage for live productions. One of the Twin Cities’ oldest theaters, dating back to 1934, the Edina Theatre has been closed for more than two years. Operator Landmark Theaters pulled out, and building owner Suzanne Haugland struggled to find another operator interested in an old four-screen theater. Convinced it could still be a traffic driver for 50th & France, Edina economic development manager Bill Neuendorf stepped in. “Mann was my first call,” he says. “I have a lot of faith in the Mann family.”
The revamped Edina—an art house pre-pandemic—will now feature a mix of indie films and mainstream Hollywood fare.
Bloomington-based Mann Theaters was founded in 1937. its portfolio peaked at 50 screens in several states. Today, the company operates seven Minnesota theaters including multiplexes in Plymouth and Grand Rapids, as well as St. Paul landmarks the Grandview and Highland theaters. Taking over the Edina is a full-circle moment for the company, which owned it under CEO Steve Mann in the late 1970s. The third generation, Michelle and Michael Mann, run the business today.
While MSP Film at the Main will focus on independent movies, the revamped Edina—which was an art house pre-pandemic—will now feature a mix of indie films and mainstream Hollywood fare. The live stage won’t have capacity for large productions, but Michelle Mann imagines comedians, musicians, and TEDx-type talks renting it.
“The pandemic has been brutal,” she acknowledges. All of the company’s screens were dark for six months in 2020, and it received more than $2.5 million in federal relief. It permanently shuttered the Hopkins theater, which showed second-run movies, a commodity rendered obsolete by streaming.
“We’re hoping to get back to 70 or 80% of where we were in 2019. We’ve seen an incline and expect it to keep going,” Mann says. She notes that concession sales, where theaters make most of their money, are up. “I think people missed the experience of going to a theater.”
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According to the Motion Picture Association’s Theatrical and Home/Mobile Entertainment Market Environment (THEME) report, the digital content streaming marketplace in 2021 accounted for 72% of the combined theatrical and home/mobile entertainment market, up 14% from 2020 and 46% from 2019. Meanwhile, box office remained half what it was in 2019.
The report does show signs of hope for the big screen, as people trickle back into theaters. When shutdown orders were lifted in 2021, the global box office market rose 81% from 2020, reaching $21.3 billion (down from $42.3 billion in 2019).
Susan Smoluchowski, executive director of MSP Film, points to steady growth in film festival audiences leading up to the pandemic—from 35,000 in 2010 to 85,000 in 2019—as a reason for hope. “These are indications to us,” she says, “even as we surface from this very dark time, that people want to go to the movies in the theater.”