Santikos CEO Tim Handren retiring after six years at the helm

Since taking over in 2018, Handren guided the San Antonio-based theater chain through multiple industry crises.

SAN ANTONIO — The CEO of Santikos is trading cinematic experiences for worldly ones. 

Tim Handren, who has led the San Antonio-based movie theater chain since 2018, says he will depart his role at the helm of the growing company, having helped it navigate multiple unprecedented crises in the form of the COVID pandemic and last year’s Hollywood strikes. His last day as CEO is Friday, after which he’ll take on an advisory role while SWBC’s Blake Hastings takes the reins. 

Handren’s tenure began with a four-month interim stint in 2018 before being hired in a permanent capacity. He and his wife are world travelers – they’ve visited more than 50 countries together, he says – and it was during a 30th anniversary trip in January that they decided it was time to start planning his departure from Santikos. 

“Blake will be calling the shots but I’m here to help on anything he wants me to help him on,” Handren said in a phone interview with KENS 5. “The goal is for me to stay around so long as it’s productive for him and the team.”

Less than two years into his time at Santikos, the pandemic placed the theater business in an existential crisis and thrust Handren into a national spotlight among exhibitors when Santikos became one of the first chains in the country to welcome audiences back while prioritizing safety and social distancing. 

“I look back with a big smile because we did lead the industry, and we did it with all sincerity,” said Handren, who also served as mayor of Boerne from 2019 to 2023. “We wanted the industry to come back. It wasn’t about Santikos.”

The early reopening protocols got the attention of major Hollywood studios. Handren also went on to take multiple roles within the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), including a seat on the executive board and chair of the organization’s Cinema Foundation, which advocates to strengthen the industry and engage audiences. 

As Handren’s involvement with NATO grew, so did Santikos as a company.  In addition to newly renovated Texas theaters and new theaters altogether, including a New Braunfels location servicing one of the country’s fastest-growing regions, Santikos announced last summer that it was acquiring locations from companies in seven other states. 

The move brought the total number of Santikos theaters from 10 to 27, making it the eighth-largest theater circuit in North America. 

But it also came in the early weeks of a prolonged monthslong Hollywood writer’s strike. The actor’s guild would join in mid-July, halting productions as the industry contended with dual strikes for the first time in decades. 

Handren cited his earlier career at USAA – where he worked alongside military commanders – as having helped him to approach such challenges with calm and confidence as Santikos navigated the fallout. He says the company’s strategy earned it praise from studios and vendors, and helped the company remain in a financially strong position. 

“My team would tell you I never, ever stress out at adversity that would face us,” he said. “I never feared for our future.”

And he still doesn’t. Despite a “really, really rough first half” of 2024, Handren says Santikos is well-positioned in the short term by positive presale buzz for the upcoming superhero comedy “Deadpool & Wolverine” and in the long term by an enduring philosophy: If the movies are good, the people will come.  

He cites reports stating the percentage of U.S. audiences going to the movies at least once a year has returned to pre-pandemic levels, as well as the fact that moviegoing remains a relatively affordable entertainment option in a time when inflation is a concern for consumers. 

A March 2023 report by the Cinema Foundation, meanwhile, found that while the window between theatric release and at-home availability has shrunk, “the all-important theatrical release will now sit at the apex of movie marketing for generations to come.” 

“People still view this as a really, really important part of our culture,” Handren said. “The industry’s going to be fine, and 2025 looks like it’s just going to crush it.” 

In the meantime, while Handren prepares to exit South Texas heat to see polar bears later this year, he says he believes his offensive approach to challenges will be part of the legacy he leaves behind. 

“Maybe that MacGyver attitude is something that’s become part of our culture at Santikos.”

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