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Movies are coming back, but not in Marshall County

BOAZ, Alabama – As the film industry begins to slowly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Marshall County is excluded from box office revenue after the closure of Boaz 9 Theater – the last indoor cinema in the county.

The theater, which has served the community for 15 years, featured stadium seating, digital projectors and 3D movies. The only place to watch a movie in Marshall County on the big screen now is the Sand Mountain Twin Drive-In, also owned by Boaz 9 owner Frank Caracci.

But with streaming services and the pandemic shutting down silver screens nationwide, was the end of Boaz 9 inevitable?

News 19 spoke with Dr. Joseph Watson, assistant professor of communications at the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) and award-winning filmmaker, about film culture in the age of streaming and COVID-19.

“The film industry is still recovering, and it hasn’t recovered by any means,” Watson said. “Unfortunately, I think you’re going to see more of these closures in rural or remote areas until we see a full recovery.”

Hollywood’s theatrical business may be slowly rebounding, but for some exhibitors the past year has been a disaster. Pacific Theaters, which operates some 300 screens in California, including iconic ArcLight theaters and the historic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, has said it will not reopen. (AP Photo / Richard Vogel)

Without a movie theater near their homes, will the people of Marshall County bother to return to the movies? Currently, the only theaters within reach of the Boaz, Albertville and Guntersville areas are in Gadsden or Huntsville.

“The movie chain, as an industry, is suffering,” Watson continued. “I don’t necessarily think movie theaters or going to the movies will go away… if anything, movie theaters could become a niche experience.”

Watson says cinema habits were already changing due to the rise of streaming services, but the pandemic has certainly accelerated the damage.

“The pandemic, if at all, has opened up new business models for the entertainment industry… we are seeing more simultaneous releases both in theaters and in streaming,” Watson said. “It seems to me that the industry is trying to find its way.”

According to Box Office Mojo, 2020 saw an 81.4% drop in film revenue from the previous year. It is estimated that $ 2.3 billion has already been smuggled into theaters this year since many reopened seats after the pandemic. This compared to $ 2.1 billion for the whole of 2020.

“[The cinema industry is] not fully recovered, [but] I hope it will and believe it will, ”said Watson. “I always believe in going to see something with a group of people in a movie theater, to have that shared experience.”

However, Marshall County moviegoers don’t have to worry too long if they seek this shared experience with their community and the big screen.

Next summer, a brand new 10-room theater should open in Albertville. Lucas Cinemas, which was originally slated to open in December 2020, will be located on US Highway 431 across from Shepherd’s Cove Hospice Thrift Store.

Movies are coming back, but not in Marshall County
A rendering of the new Lucas Cinemas which will open next summer across from Shepherd’s Cove in Albertville.

“The City of Albertville is extremely excited to have Lucas Cinemas set up its new theater in Albertville,” said Mike Price, Director of Community and Economic Development for the City of Albertville. “The state-of-the-art 10-screen luxury theater will suit the city perfectly.”

Lucas Cinemas is the brainchild of Jim Lucas, a man who is no stranger to the business. With over 41 years of filmmaking experience to his credit, Lucas began his career with Carmike Cinemas before it was acquired by AMC.

The first Lucas Cinemas location opened with four screens in Kentucky in 2017. A second 10-screen location followed in Georgia in 2020. Albertville will be the chain’s third theater.

“With over 20,000 school-aged children in the county, providing entertainment for families and teenagers is very important in terms of the quality of life for citizens,” concluded Price. “The theater will be an important piece of this puzzle. ”

Lucas Cinemas is expected to open its doors to moviegoers in the summer of 2022.