By Dave Walters
The key line from the Wonder Woman franchise is “I can save today; you can save the world.”
Wonder Woman 1984 helped save the Zephyrhills Cinema 10 with its Christmas Day release as local movie goers returned to the reduced seating and socially distant theaters.
With the cash registers ringing at the box office and concessions stands, Zephyrhills Cinema 10 owner Larry Rutan is greeting customers at the door welcoming them back to a theater that was pushed to the brink thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns.
“It has been a difficult road,” said Rutan, who has been providing movie entertainment in Zephyrhills for 40 years. “Wonder Woman helped us so much.”
While the Amazon Warrior may have provided a late much-needed boost to Rutan’s business, it was Rutan’s relentless fight of his own that kept the movies rolling after a three-month shutdown by the government.
Once Florida Governor Ron DeSantis allowed theaters to open, the timing was bad as Hollywood was not releasing first-run movies. So, with no new movies to put on the screen, Rutan went with older movies offered at a discount.
“We struggled for several months with that,” Rutan said. “It felt like forever. We were having some income, but it wasn’t enough.”
Rutan plunged into his savings and hit his credit cards to keep the theater afloat and that was not enough. The community rallied around the theater with a Facebook GoFundMe effort that brought in a several thousand dollars.
“We had wonderful support from the Facebook community and so many nice things were said about our theater,” Rutan said. “That was really helpful and that was used for payroll. It was such a nice thing.”
Then the Paycheck Protection Program funding was released to help Rutan pay employees who depended on a paycheck.
While things appeared to be bleak, there was never a thought of closing the curtain on his beloved cinema.
“I don’t pack it in,” Rutan said. “I’m going to fight to the very end. Even though we were slow, I wasn’t going to give up. I’ll keep going until I’m on a gang plank with a sword stuck in my back and someone forces me to jump off of the ship. They may have to stab me a couple of times to get me to jump.”
Wonder Woman 1984 appeared to help a lot of theaters grossing $36 million in the opening weekend and it appears other movies will be gradually moving into theaters as the cinema business rebounds.
“Wonder Woman really brought us back. I think from here on out, we won’t be slamming, but we’re going to be OK,” Rutan explained. “When the summer hits, we’ll be back to full force.”
Currently, Rutan has theater seating reduced by 50 percent with socially distant seating. No one is permitted to enter the building without a mask. If patrons do not have a mask, one will be provided. Moviegoers can take off the masks when they reach their seats. In between showings, theater staff members sanitize each auditorium.
“I think we’re a lot safer than the grocery stores and shopping areas we go to because people walk right past you and sometimes, they aren’t wearing masks,” Rutan said. “I think we’re very, very safe. People can feel safe coming to the movies.”