Aitkin’s Rialto Theatre getting ready to open after months of shutdown

Aitkin’s Rialto Movie Theatre is getting ready to reopen for movie showings May 21, after being closed since Nov. 20, 2020.

The theater will show “Tom and Jerry” starting May 21,  followed by “Cruella” – Disney’s latest on the exploits of the villain from “101 Dalmatians” – on Memorial Day weekend.

One hundred, eighty-two days.

That is roughly how long it will have been since the Rialto Theatre in Aitkin showed its last movie Nov. 20 – and when it plans to reopen May 21.

“Basically, six months,” said theater owner Kirk Peysar.

The Rialto is scheduled to show the “Tom and Jerry” film from May 21-27, and then follow with “Cruella” – Disney’s latest in the “101 Dalmatians” series.

That film will open Memorial Day weekend and run at least two weeks, Peysar said. Beyond that, the schedule will depend on what movies are released and available.

The last year and a half has been anything but normal business for the Rialto and for the movie business in general. The COVID-19 pandemic hit movie theaters hard – not just shutting them down, but shifting the entire timetable of when blockbuster films would be released.

Among the blockbuster films scheduled to be released last year, as well as ones already postponed until later this summer:

• “Dune,” a remake of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel, was supposed to be out last December. It is now scheduled for October of this year

• “Black Widow,” the latest film in the Marvel Comic Universe series, was moved from 2020 to July 9 of this year

• “Mission: Impossible 7” and “Top Gun: Maverick” – both Tom Cruise flicks – have been moved to either later this year or May of next year.

With most blockbuster films also sporting huge budgets – “Dune” was filmed at an estimated cost of $165 million – production companies are waiting for people to be in the seats to recoup the costs of making the films.

“They don’t want to put a $165 million movie out there and have it gross $20 million,” Peysar said.

It’s also not just the delay of films. With the launch of Disney-Plus last year, Disney sent films straight to video on demand – some included in normal online subscription fees but others for an added cost.

Warner Brothers, meanwhile, developed its own deal with HBO Max. Among the films released on that platform and available for home viewing were “Wonder Woman 1984” and “King Kong vs. Godzilla” – both films part of a larger series.

Warner Brothers has announced that films will go back to exclusive theatrical premieres soon, but some movies are still listed with dates of simultaneous theatrical/HBO Max premieres.

Peysar said that the movie business was probably moving in that direction anyhow, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend.

“They kind of seized the opportunity with COVID-19,” Peysar said.

What that means for movie theaters is anyone’s guess. Many still want the experience of crowds around them, theater popcorn and darkened theaters. Others prefer to curl up at home with homemade snacks and a hand-picked audience.

“I think what we’re going to see in the industry moving forward is that a movie will be released online the same day it’s in the theaters,” Peysar said.

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