Variety: Theater Owners Chief on Box Office Downturn, Alamo Drafthouse Sale and Bringing Audiences Back to the Movies: ‘We’re Still Looking for a Catalyst’

Michael O’Leary, the president of the National Association of Theater Owners, knows that the cinema operators he represents through his trade group have been through a lot. But he also believes that things are turning around, noting the recent success of “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” and a number of potential hits, such as “Inside Out 2,” “Despicable Me 4” and “Deadpool & Wolverine” that are scheduled to open in the coming days and weeks. If the box office can build momentum, O’Leary thinks the perception will change and the financial sector will give his organization’s members the support they need to improve their venues and grow their businesses.

[Variety:] What do you think the biggest challenge facing the movie business is right now?

[Michael O’Leary:] That depends on who you talk to. At [the exhibition industry conference] CinemaCon, I frequently heard that there’s not enough capital in the system. Our business is consumer facing and in a post-pandemic world, we need to provide our customers with the amazing experience that they deserve. A lot of our members have done an amazing job of developing their properties and adding things to everything they already were offering, but we want to do even more. We have exciting ideas about how to improve the experience, but the money has not been there. And this is all happening during an economic downturn with inflation, so the costs of running these theaters has not gotten any cheaper. There’s just less discretionary income for these improvements. So our message to bankers and investors has been that the future is bright for this sector, but you need to get behind us.