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Columbia-area Big Mo drive-in looks to bring back movies soon, if Hollywood plays along

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The Big Mo Monetta09.JPG (copy) (copy)

Hunter Elkins and Shelby Draft sit on top of their vehicle before the start of the movie at The Big Mo drive-in movie theatre in Monetta on Saturday, June 15, 2019. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

COLUMBIA — The Monetta Drive-In, the three-screen outdoor theater known as The Big Mo situated amid the fields of rural Lexington County, is looking to restart screenings this spring after taking off much of 2020.

The Big Mo likely will begin welcoming customers again in mid- or late April, co-owner Richard Boaz said.

How that plays out, however, depends on several variables including COVID-19 infection rates and Hollywood. 

"The goal of this entire thing is to keep people safe," Boaz said.

The movie industry has pushed back release dates for a number of films indefinitely, and whatever gets announced tends to get changed around, Boaz said. 

Specifically, he noted that the horror sequel "A Quiet Place Part II" has been re-scheduled for release on Memorial Day Weekend while the latest installment of the "Fast and Furious" franchise was moved off that weekend, Boaz said.

Boaz wants to make sure he'll have a steady supply of new movies to show at The Big Mo after it reopens. He's particularly watching if the latest installment in the Marvel superheroes franchise, "Black Widow," keeps its release date of May 7. 

Disney CEO Bob Chapek reiterated the blockbuster starring Scarlett Johansson will head to theaters on that date as part of his comments to the entertainment giant's shareholders meeting March 9, Deadline.com reported.

Boaz is also watching the COVID-19 numbers.

Across South Carolina, drive-in movie theaters are still hanging on

Boaz does not want to hire a staff and begin getting ready to welcome some number of guests — possibly fewer than full capacity — at the drive-in unless the positive trends on coronavirus continue.

To Boaz, operating the Big Mo is not an essential activity.

The state's two other drive-in theaters have continued to operate since last summer even as The Big Mo was mostly closed.

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Both the 25 Drive In Auto Theatre in Greenwood and the Highway 21 Drive-In in Beaufort continue to run a mix of recent releases and older favorite films.

Regular theater multiplexes also have come to different answers about what to do. Several Columbia-area AMC theaters are open at least on weekends, while Regal cinemas remain closed for now.

Drive-ins have an additional challenge from scattered release dates because customers expect a double feature when they come out, Boaz said.

Some drive-ins showed the latest Disney animation release for theaters, "Raya and the Last Dragon" last weekend but had no other movie from Disney to pair with it, Boaz said.

Some theaters just showed the movie twice while others, such as the Highway 21 Drive-In, ran it as a single feature.

The Big Mo did have some socially distanced special events such as live-streamed concerts during 2020 featuring stars including Garth Brooks.

As for movies, "we had a three-week season," Boaz said.

Now he wonders how great the demand will be to come back out to Monetta, a 45-minute drive from downtown Columbia, after the drive-in has been almost entirely closed for the past year.

"It's an unknown," Boaz said.

Customers have had 12 months to get used to streaming first-run movies on TV, he noted.

In the most stark change, Warner Bros. has been releasing its movies such as "Wonder Woman 1984" straight to screens via HBO Max on the same day as theatrical release. The studio has said it will do that for all of its 2021 releases. 

Studios also are concerned with continuing lockdowns in other parts of the world even as many parts of the U.S. push to reopen normal activity.

Boaz said he long has wondered when movie companies would cut theaters out of the loop entirely. He fears that the coronavirus pandemic has brought that day closer.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikefittsat140

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