Over 600 movie theaters across the United States remain shuttered in the wake of the pandemic, with Regal Cinemas announcing the closure of 39 more. While some theaters will be repurposed or demolished, hundreds will site neglected and simply rot away.
These empty theaters piqued my curiosity, especially since so many were set never to reopen. Over the past six months, I’ve explored half a dozen abandoned theaters across the midwest. Many cinemas were listed as “temporarily closed” for many months before publicly announcing their permanent closure.
This Regal Cinema sits abandoned, attached to one of America’s many “dead malls.” The theater survived less than a year into the pandemic, closing its doors in May of 2021. Surprisingly, the doors of this theater were open, and the smell of popcorn still filled the air some two years after its closure.
Inside, a distant alarm rings out across the lobby, indicating some sort of system failure. With the building still partially powered, emergency lights gradually flicker to life as the sun sets. The air conditioning clunks on, pushing out a stale, lukewarm breeze. It’s incredibly strange to be inside an abandoned building with so many amenities left on, slowly failing from years of neglect.
Valuables such as projectors, servers, and arcade machines were all gone. Presumably auctioned off or moved to another theater. However, there was still much left behind. Surround sound speaker systems, film reel rewinders, and candy was left behind.
But the trip wasn’t all doom and gloom. As you can imagine, having an entire theater to yourself can be pretty fun. With no working projector, we resorted to taking our shadow puppet characters to the silver screen.
Like the fate of many abandoned theaters across the country, the future of this theater isn’t exactly clear. The story now is that developers want to demo the property and build luxury housing in a neighborhood of liquor stores and payday loan offices.
To me, the hundreds of vacant theaters and stores across our country serve as a reminder of the indelible mark COVID left on our economy, and culture.