BOAZ, Ala. — As the movie industry begins a slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, Marshall County is getting left out of the box office revenue after the closure of the Boaz 9 Cinema — the county’s last indoor movie theater.
The theater, which served the community for 15 years, featured stadium seating, digital projectors, and 3-D films. The only place to watch a movie in Marshall County on the big screen is now the Sand Mountain Twin Drive-In, also owned by Boaz 9’s owner Frank Caracci.
But with streaming services and the pandemic shuttering silver screens nationwide, was the end of Boaz 9 inevitable?
News 19 spoke with Dr. Joseph Watson, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) and award-winning filmmaker, about the culture of filmgoers in the age of streaming and COVID-19.
“The movie industry is still recovering, and it hasn’t, by any stretch of the means, recovered,” said Watson. “Sadly, I think you’re going to see more of these closings in rural or isolated areas until we see a full recovery.”
Without a theater close to home, will Marshall County residents even bother heading back to the theater? Currently, the only movie theaters within reach of the Boaz, Albertville, and Guntersville areas are in either Gadsden or Huntsville.
“The movie theater chain, as an industry, is hurting,” Watson continued. “I don’t necessarily think that movie theaters or moviegoing will go away… if anything, movie theaters might become more of a niche experience.”
Watson says moviegoing habits were already changing due to the rise of streaming services, but the pandemic certainly accelerated the damage.
“The pandemic, if anything, opened up new business models for the entertainment industry… we’re seeing more simultaneous releasing of both in theaters and streaming,” stated Watson. “It seems to me that the industry is trying to find its way.”
According to Box Office Mojo, 2020 saw an 81.4% decrease in film revenue compared to the previous year. An estimated $2.3 billion has already been grossed at movie theaters this year so far since many have reopened seats after the pandemic. That compared with $2.1 billion for the entirety of 2020.
“[The cinema industry is] not fully recovered, [but] I have hopes that it will and believe that it will,” Watson said. “I still believe in the idea of going to watch something with a group of people in a movie theater, to have that shared experience.”
However, Marshall County moviegoers don’t have to fret for too long if they’re looking for that shared experience with their community and the big screen.
Next summer, a brand-new 10-screen theater is expected to open in Albertville. Lucas Cinemas, which was originally supposed to open in December 2020, will be located on U.S. Highway 431 across from the Shepherd’s Cove Hospice Thrift Store.
“The City of Albertville is extremely excited to have Lucas Cinemas locate their newest theater in Albertville,” said Mike Price, director of community and economic development for the City of Albertville. “The 10 screen, state of the art, luxury seating theater will be a tremendous fit for the city.”
Lucas Cinemas is the brainchild of Jim Lucas, a man who is no stranger to the business. With more than 41 years of movie theater experience under his belt, Lucas started his career with Carmike Cinemas before it was purchased by AMC.
The first Lucas Cinemas location was 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 20,000+ school-age children in the county, having entertainment offerings for families and teens is very important in terms of the quality of life for citizens,” Price concluded. “The theater will be an important piece to that puzzle.”
Lucas Cinemas is set to open for moviegoers in Summer 2022.