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Moviegoers returning to theaters for Thanksgiving and holiday season, but with caution

Joel Sevilla, 25, of Woodcrest, hadn’t done it for 28 months.

But on a warm night in August, Sevilla, 25, took his 4-year-old son to see “PAW Patrol: The Movie” at the Galaxy Theaters Mission Grove in Riverside. It was the first time since he watched “Avengers: Endgame” in April 2019 that he had stepped foot inside a movie theater.

Many Southern Californians are judging it safe to resume their movie-going habits after being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and seeing case and hospitalization numbers drop way down since last year.

Take Karen Weber, 66, who retired from her job a few years ago as editor of the Highlanders weekly newspapers, owned by this news group. The Huntington Beach resident — after a two-year absence — bought advance tickets for herself and her sister, Jill, for Disney’s new release “Encanto” on Thanksgiving Day.

“Holiday season and summer blockbusters are our movie seasons,” she said days before Thanksgiving. “I feel pretty safe going back.”

Banking on nostalgia

Folks are being lured by a string of box-office blockbusters that explode off the large screen in technicolor and Dolby Sound, nudged by memories of a tradition lost as the coronavirus surged last winter — going to the movies during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

It’s the fix of a deep-seated social phenomenon, a common, human experience of mutual escape that theater owners and studio executives are banking on.

“The communities need to come together now more than they ever did,” said Brian Schultz, CEO of LOOK Cinemas, during a break from opening a theater in a suburb of New York. Schultz, who founded Studio Movie Grill theaters, recently reopened SMG theaters shuttered in 2020 as LOOK Dine-In Cinemas in Glendale, Downey, Redlands and Monrovia.

By the end of the year, Schultz said, he will have launched 20 LOOK theaters in the United States.

Can LOOK, along with movie theater titans such as AMC, Cinemark and Regal — who are also ready to begin tearing tickets en masse — be right?

Movies and entertainment business analyst Michael Pachter, of Wedbush Securities in downtown Los Angeles, said he is bullish on the movie theater and movie industry business in general, after 18 months of hard times.

When asked if moviegoers are coming back this fall and winter, Pachter answered: “Yes, they are. There is pent-up demand. Plus, we are largely vaccinated.”

Phil Contrino, director of media and research for the National Association of Theater Owners, said more people are ready to buy a ticket and sit for two hours dazzled by what’s on the big screen.

“People have had enough of being apart,” he began in an interview Tuesday, Nov. 23. “So they are going to get their shots, they will wear a mask but they want to get back together. Especially people who are social – they need that energy. There is only so much people can take.”

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