In an upside-down summer, ‘Jaws,’ ‘E.T.’ are hits again

In an upside-down summer, ‘Jaws,’ ‘E.T.’ are hits again

In an upside-down summer, ‘Jaws,’ ‘E.T.’ are hits again

NEW YORK — When historians look back on the top films at the box office in the summer of 2020, they may feel like they’ve slipped into a time warp, or maybe “Back to the Future.”

Over the second weekend in July, “Empire Strikes Back” — 40 years after it was first released — was again No. 1. “Ghostbusters” claimed the July 4th weekend, 36 years after opening. Over the June 19-21 weekend and 27 years after it last led the box office, “Jurassic Park” again ruled theatres.

In a pandemic that has resurrected all kinds of vintage pastimes, from puzzles to drive-ins, even the blockbusters are retro. That is much out of necessity. About 1,000 theatres in the U.S. are currently open, just about a sixth of the nation’s cinemas. That includes the approximately 300 drive-ins that have, since the multiplexes shuttered in March, hosted the majority of moviegoing.

With all major new releases postponed until at least Labor Day weekend, summer moviegoing has again belonged to the classics — the kinds of films that, for many, remain as indelibly linked to the season as E.T. is to Elliott. Brian Keasey, a 44-year-old in Montrose, Colorado, has been going every week, when he’s not playing movies on his backyard screen.

“I saw ‘Jaws’ on the big screen. I saw ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ on the big screen. I saw my childhood on the big screen,” said Keasey a few hours before heading to a double-feature of “Ghostbusters” and “The Rental,” a new indie horror film by Dave Franco.

This is American moviegoing in the summer of 2020. A nostalgic trip to the drive-in. A white sheet hung off the patio. The comforting reunion with a great white shark. Keasey says he’s seen “Jaws” three times this summer, including once on a screen improvised next to a pond.

“It’s the classic summer blockbuster. It’s gorgeous. You can freeze frame any piece of that movie and it’s a perfect slice of 1975 America,” says Keasey. “I feel like those movies of the ’70s and ’80s had character development. Now, it’s 100% right out the gate. There’s no room to breathe anymore.”

Among catalogue films, “Jurassic Park” has led them all with a bit more than $3 million in ticket sales this summer, according to several people who have seen box-office grosses. The major studios have declined to report ticket sales during the pandemic. The numbers, naturally, are extremely paltry compared to the usual billions generated in Hollywood’s prime season.

The unreported grosses for newer releases like “Trolls World Tour” and “Onward” exceed those of the repertory releases. But the likes of “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Goonies” and “Ghostbusters” rank among the summer’s top draws.

That vacuum has led to some unlikely heavyweights at the box office this summer. The low-budget IFC Films horror film “The Wretched” led all reported films for seven straight weekends in May and early June, a stretch that matches the run of “Avatar.” It’s made $1.8 million in 13 weeks, an impressive total for a film made for less than $100,000.

Mission Tiki, the four-screen, Polynesian-themed drive-in in Montclair, California, outside Los Angeles and flanked by the San Gabriel Mountains, also turned into the epicenter of U.S. moviegoing. DeAnza Land and Leisure, which owns Mission Tiki and five other drive-ins, outranks all other circuits with 32% of the market share.

Typically, chains like AMC and Regal would dominate such lists, and urban multiplexes would be the top sellers. But at one point in the spring, when Mission Tiki was one of few operating theatres, the circuit accounted for close to 70% of the national gross.

“It’s ridiculous,” says Frank Huttinger, the company’s chief executive.

Huttinger, happy for a break from bookkeeping, sounded exhausted on a recent evening. He’s never worked harder, he says.

“For a while there, we were just turning people away. Now that the theatres are operating at half capacity, we’re turning a lot of people away,” Huttinger says. “We get spillover due to sell-outs, so all screens do well, regardless of what you’re playing. Right now, ‘Goonies’ with ‘Gremlins’ is just blowing it out of the park.”

First opened in 1947, Mission Tiki’s circuit numbered 40 screens at its height. Now, it finds itself the hottest cinema in Southern California — even if it lacks the usual perks.

“Sometimes, you just can’t help doing something right,” says Huttinger. “But I promise you, nobody’s calling me for the A-list parties.”

Weekend box-office results usually function, like the top 40 radio hits, as cultural signposts. It would be hard to recall the summer of 1981 without mentioning “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or the summer of 1977 without remembering “Star Wars.” Summer movies burrow into childhood memories.

This year, it’s possible that “Hamilton,” on Disney+, has been the most-watched movie of the summer, or that “The Old Guard,” on Netflix, filled a void. But viewership for those films, too, hasn’t been released. Anyone clinging to a collective moviegoing experience — or the feeling of a must-see movie — has had to make it for themselves.

Given the financial pressures on theatres, most of which have been closed for nearly five months, it’s not at all clear if moviegoing will survive the pandemic intact. Earlier this week, AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures agreed to collapse the exclusive theatrical window from the traditional 90 days to a minimum of just 17 days. “Jaws,” which birthed the modern blockbuster, played for 196 days.

But the big-screen for many still holds romance. Herb Geraghty, 24, began dating someone shortly before the pandemic lockdown began. They met only over Skype. For their first in-person date, they drove from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the Dependable Drive-In in Moon Township.

They first saw the indie thriller “Vast of the Night,” and on subsequent trips watched the murder mystery “Knives Out” and a double-bill of “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park.” They get there early, lay out a blanket and have a picnic. The commercials in between showings, Geraghty says, “make me feel like I’m in ‘Grease.’” A routine developed, and the relationship stuck.

“We do it pretty much every weekend now,” says Geraghty.

___

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

film

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

File Photo
Blackfalds RCMP seeking suspects in traffic collision

RCMP are asking the public for help identifing two suspects wanted for multiple offences

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday 12, 2020.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

Most Read