LOS ANGELESFilm buffs flocked into Los Angeles-area theaters this weekend, eager to turn the page on the pandemic that forced them to spend a year watching movies from home.For months, executives at Hollywoods biggest studios and theater chains said that when massive markets like Los Angeles and New York eventually reopened, combined with a successful rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine, pent-up demand would revive their struggling businesses. Now, after theaters in New York opened two weeks ago and those in Los Angeles this weekend, the industry will get a clear look at how desperate moviegoers may be to return to theaters.Pre-pandemic, Los Angeles accounted for about 8% of domestic moviegoing, as Americas largest metropolitan theatrical market, according to media measurement company Comscore.

I didnt even care what movie was going to play. I just wanted to get back to the movies, said Ken Ruiz, a 52-year-old computer programmer and part-time stand-up comic who, on Friday, bought a ticket to see

Walt Disney Co.

s latest animated film Raya and the Last Dragon at the companys famed Hollywood theater El Capitan.

The theater, a historic treasure which first opened in 1926, is located on one of Los Angeles busiest thoroughfares, Hollywood Boulevard. At it and other theaters in L.A., masks are required and capacity is limited to 25%, or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

Its kind of an emotional day, Mr. Ruiz said, eyes watering after his first visit to a movie theater since March 2020.

The El Capitan General Manager, James Wood, was equally excited to see the theater open again. After working there for nearly two decades, Mr. Wood ascended to his current post right before lockdowns shut down public spaces. Every day since has led to Friday, he said.

My whole focus was on this moment, Mr. Wood said, pleased that two of the days four screenings had sold out despite police closing the street down with yellow tape after an SUV plowed into a nearby convenience store. People want to come back to the movies.

Data collected by National Research Group, which has tracked moviegoer sentiment for 40 years, says 57% of those polled before the weekend expressed comfort with the prospect of returning to theaters, up from a low of 19% in April 2020.

Los Angeles is the film capital of the world. Thousands of its residents either work in the entertainment industry, wish to work in it or depend on the sprawling economic activity that film and television production generates. So when many of the citys theaters threw open their doors Fridayat reduced capacityfor the first time in one year, people showed up, and in some cases filled every seat available.

Though theaters around the U.S. have been slowly reopening in recent months, attendance has been sluggish as Hollywood studios shelved highly anticipated movies such as Paramount Pictures Top Gun: Maverick, starring Tom Cruise, and the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, from MGM Holdings Inc.

Seeing all the movies keep getting pushed back and back and back kept breaking my heart, said Allison Sharpley, who on Friday ventured out to her favorite local theater, AMCs Century City 15, so she could see Universal Pictures Oscar-nominated Promising Young Woman.

Like Raya and the Last Dragon, Promising Young Woman can also be streamed at home.

The 45-year-old healthcare professional now works at a vaccine clinic doling out as many as 400 vaccinations a day. She said she tried drive-ins during the pandemic to support Hollywood, as many of her friends work in the business. But sitting in a car or watching from home doesnt compare, she said.

I didnt want to see Wonder Woman for the first time on my dinky 32-inch TV. Theres something about that experience and sharing that experience with a bunch of other people. Thats why I come, she said.

But many people did watch Wonder Woman 1984 at home as

AT&T Inc.s

Warner Bros. movie studio released the film both in theaters and online in an effort to attract consumers to its fledgling streaming service HBO Max.

During the pandemic, Hollywood studios like Warner Bros., Disney and Comcast Corp.s Universal Pictures have all released more new movies online, a move that put many theater owners on their heels. Before, movie theaters coveted exclusivity windowthe time when movies are only available in theaterswas the bedrock of their business.

Domestic box-office revenues plunged to $2.2 billion in 2020, down from $11.4 billion in 2019, according to the Motion Picture Association.

With Los Angeles open again, the countrys largest theater chain,

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.

says 98% of its theaters are now operational. But the nations second-largest chain,

Cineworld Group

PLCs Regal Entertainment Group, has yet to reopen in America. Third-largest chain

Cinemark Holdings Inc.

now has about 90% of its theaters open.

The worlds largest streaming service,

Netflix Inc.,

doesnt depend on selling theater tickets for revenue, but the company still chose to project its black-and-white film Mank in some Los Angeles-area theaters ahead of this years Oscars on April 25. Some moviegoers on Friday headed to the theater to see it on the big screen.

Mank, which nabbed more Academy Award nominations than any other movie in this years Oscar field, goes behind the scenes into the making of what many critics call the greatest film of all time, director Orson Welles Citizen Kane.

Nearly 80 years ago, Mr. Welles held the movies Hollywood premiere at El Capitan in May 1941.

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