As cities and states begin reopening, movie theaters are experimenting with how to continue to provide entertainment while keeping patrons and staff safe.
With many summer releases bypassing the traditional cinema release straight to streaming to avoid pushing back their opening dates, including the children’s animated sequel “Trolls World Tour” and Judd Apatow comedy “The King of Staten Island,” there is a real fear that movie theaters may become obsolete. The ability to get new releases for substantially less than cinema prices, from the comfort of your living room, is appealing to some.
However, many of us love going to the movies for more than just the film on screen. There’s something exciting about going out, buying popcorn and overpriced candy, and watching the film in a dark theatre on a huge screen. You’re forced to be fully in the moment with the movie, as you can’t pause the film, use your phone, or have a side conversation. It turns the act of watching a movie into an event.
Some films decided to press on with theatre releases, waiting until the country reopened so their films could be viewed as they were intended. While most pushed back to the fall, winter, or next summer, a few pioneering films will arrive to theaters within the coming months. Disney’s live-action “Mulan” is set for July 24.
Christopher Nolan’s films are always best on the big screen, and his mysterious “Tenet” will likely be no exception; we’ll see whether or not on July 31. Likewise, “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” a continuation of the cult classic time travel comedy series, pushed its release date up to August 14.
To satisfy audience demand and profit from showings of upcoming films, these large movie-theatre chains have announced their plans to reopen.
AMC is the largest chain of cinemas in the country, with more than 8,114 screens across 637 theaters nationwide, as of 2019. Four hundred of those theaters will be open for business by July 15. However, these theaters will be at reduced capacity, with a maximum of 30 percent occupancy depending on the local guidelines for each.
Seating will be arranged to allow for social distancing, and every other row will be blocked off. Fewer screenings will allow for the theaters to be cleaned between each showing. Further, masks will be required, although they can be removed to eat and drink.
The movie theaters will still be selling concessions, but with a limited menu to shorten lines. Popcorn and soda will still be available, but large orders will no longer be subject to refills. Likewise, straws, napkins, lids, and condiments will be available, but only by request.
Starting July 10, Regal theatres will start showing movies again. Until the fall returns to a regular schedule, Regal will supplement the new releases with classic films and other popular movies. The theatres will only be filled to a maximum of 50 percent capacity. There will be two empty seats between each group, to maintain social distance. After each showing, the theatre and each seat will undergo ULV fogger sanitation.
All employees and patrons will be required to wear face masks, although they can be removed to eat concessions, and only in the auditoriums. Concessions will be available with a limited menu, but every other register will be closed. Vending machines and other self-service concessions will be temporarily unavailable. Restaurants or in-theatre dining will be suspended in locations that previously offered these.
Cinemark Theatres is engaging in a four-phase reopening plan. Part 1 began on June 19, when five theatres were opened in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas as a test run. This weekend, one-third of all Cinemark theaters will be opened, focusing on larger markets. Next weekend, another third will open, with a plan to have all theaters up and running by July 10. Supplementing the upcoming new releases, Cinemark is currently showing old movies at a discount, allowing patrons to experience beloved classics and new favorites on the big screen.
Currently, Cinemark theaters are at 25 percent capacity, although they expect to increase to 50 percent in the coming weeks. Further, Cinemark is staggering showtimes, to minimize traffic in the hallways. While Cinemark is not requiring masks for guests, except where necessary under local or state mandates, they are compulsory for staff and strongly encouraged for patrons.
To protect both the staff and guests, Plexiglass is being added at both the concession stand and the ticket booth, and Cinemark is increasing mobile sales for both to reduce contact. Refillable popcorns and sodas are temporarily suspended; instead, purchase of a previously refillable size will allow a discount on the next purchase.
Annual refillable drink cups and popcorn tubs are likewise suspended. However, if you bring your refillable cup or tub to the concession stand, you will get the requisite discount on a single-use drink or popcorn. The discounts will be extended until March 31, 2021. Moreover, restaurants in theaters will be closed until further notice, and bars will be limited.
During lockdown, Marcus Theatres had been offering curbside pickup for popcorn and concessions, and some locations even held makeshift drive-ins in their parking lots. But now, with lockdown coming to a slow close, they are engaging in a phased reopening.
Six locations opened last weekend, showing classic films, movies whose runs were interrupted by the lockdowns, and recent favorites. They will be adding dates to reopen their 85 other locations shortly. The theaters will start by only opening Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, before eventually expanding to the rest of the week. Aside from the new releases arriving in July, all tickets are only $5.
While Marcus staff must wear face masks, they are optional (albeit encouraged) for customers. To preserve social distancing, however, at least two seats must remain between each party in the auditoriums. Showtimes will be staggered to minimize the number of people in any hallway at a given time. After each show, the theatre will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
While tickets and concessions can be ordered via app, both can be purchased in person as well. Bars and lounges will have limited hours, and restaurants will not be opened until a later date.