It’s OK if you’ve already seen the movie. That’s kind of the point.
Some locally owned area movie theaters have been showing movies from the 1970s and 1980s recently. Hollywood isn’t releasing anything new because of the coronavirus pandemic. Once the cinemas were able to safely reopen their doors in late June after three months of lockdown, they turned to the modern classics on the biggest screen in town.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Pete Suter, who owns the Shannon Theatre in downtown Bluffton with his wife, Kim, since 2007. “… There’s a lot of people in their 40s that resonate well with these films. It reminds them of their youth, and they’re coming back, this time with their kids.”
At the Wapa Theatre in downtown Wapakoneta, they’re playing 1980’s “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” through Thursday. That’s following a week of 1985’s “Back to the Future” there the previous week.
They’ve also had success at the Van Del Drive-In Theater, which is playing newer classics like “Inside Out” and “Shrek,” while also playing “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” Recently the theater also played “Ghostbusters.”
“Classic movies have been doing well for us this year,” Donna Saunders of the Van Del said via Facebook Messenger. “Also, the Encore Drive-In Nights concerts have been a big hit! We are doing our second concert on July 25th.”
Now through Thursday, you could be checking out 1981’s “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” at the Shannon in Bluffton. Other recent shows there included 1986’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” 1984’s “Footloose,” 1985’s “The Goonies,” and 1978’s “Grease.”
“Actually, I’ll admit my secret shame,” Suter said. “I’d never seen ‘Grease’ at all, on a big screen or a small screen. That was fantastic. My family and I watched that last week on the big screen. It was a new experience for both my kids and I. My wife had seen it a number of times.”
Suter said he takes suggestions from his customers on what to bring next. He avoids his own list, noting his favorite movie, 1987’s “Ishtar,” wasn’t a commercial hit then and wouldn’t be now either.
“We’ll go back to first-run movies when Hollywood starts releasing them again,” Suter said. “They’re releasing some first-run ones at the end of July, but they’re not in our market, rated R movies. The first movie we’re targeting is Mulan on Aug. 21. We’re anticipating doing this retro thing for at least another month.”
The crowds have been decent. Suter said he felt fortunate to have such a strong and loyal customer base that came back after he had to shut the theater down in March.
With social distancing requirements at the Shannon, the maximum capacity is one-third of the auditorium’s size. They’ve filled up that allotment in many 7 p.m. showings, but there are still seats available at 9:30 p.m. viewings or 1 p.m. matinees on Sundays, where you can “have your choice of seats,” he said.
Financially speaking, the Bluffton theater can ride this out for a little bit, Suter said. The classic movies are less expensive to license, and there are many to choose from. He said he’s willing to break even or even lose a little bit of money in the short term to find a good use of the space and provide some much-needed entertainment.
“I got into the movie business because it’s so much fun to watch people come in and enjoy themselves. That’s what it’s all about,” Suter said. “With the retro movies, it’s even more than that. We’re providing parents an opportunity to share with their kids what they grew up with. It’s entertainment, plus showing, ‘This is where I come from. These are my movies.’ And that’s really cool.”