After five months of closure and desperation amongst film fans across the States, the great cathedrals of the silver screen have made their return (assuming you’re in one of the 42 states where they are allowed to open). Theaters took a MASSIVE hit during the pandemic, most notably AMC when they barely missed having to declare a Chapter 11 filing. So, this reopening is a pivotal time for theaters, and due to the pandemic they are opening with many changes. For the purpose of this article, I am going to almost exclusively focus on the five biggest policies and changes as stated by REGAL as they are the most prominent chain in my area (that said, most theater chains including AMC and Cinemark are following similar procedures).
1. Masks Requirements
Masks are required at all times. In lines, lobbies, restrooms, hallways, and yes, in the auditoriums themselves. The only time you are allowed to remove your mask is when you are taking a bite of food or a sip of your drink. Do not complain, be a decent human being. You will be removed from theaters if you refuse to wear your mask. We are over five months into this thing and if you still think masks infringe upon your rights then you probably aren’t intelligent enough to understand basic storylines anyway.
2. Social Distancing
As has become the standard at all stores, concession stands and box office will have the standard “please stand here” stickers placed 6-ft. apart with every other register being closed. For auditoriums, it more on a screen-by-screen basis, for example non-recliner theaters will skip rows while recliner theaters will not due to the already large gap between rows. All auditoriums will be implementing social gaps between parties. For theaters that have assigned seating (which all theaters should but that is a discussion for another day), the social gaps will be automatically implemented as people book their seats, closing off 2-3 seats on either side of the party. Theaters without assigned seating, theoretically, are checking theaters before screenings start to make sure social distancing is happening. It should be stated, however, if you go to a movie and people are not adhering to social distancing or the theater is over 50% capacity (whether it is a state that requires it or not), ask for a refund or to change to a different movie time. Theaters would much prefer giving you a refund or moving you to a different time than dealing with the repercussions of not following social distancing.
3. Movie Times
Box office scheduling has been changed so theaters have increased time cleaning the theaters and to limit the traffic in the building. Most if not all theater chains are implementing new auditorium cleaning standards, and with the added time between screenings and decreased available seats, ushers at these theaters will actually have time to thoroughly clean. This does mean that there are less times in the day to see the movie you want, but given that there are very few new movies rolling out into cinemas each week it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. This scheduling will mostly be put to the test when Christopher Nolan’s Tenet releases in a few weeks.
4. Movie Options and Prices
Obviously the pandemic completely nuked the release calendar and as a result release dates are very sparse for the initial reopening. So, to the benefit of us movie fans the theater chains are playing a curated selection of films including classics, big box office hit films (MCU/Star Wars), and movies that had their theatrical runs cut short as they released back in February. For re-released films, ticket prices will be discounted to $5 (such films include Jaws (1975), Grease (1978), Inception (2010), and Black Panther (2018)) and these films appear to cycle out next week and end on September’s opening weekend where they have enough new movies to fill the screens.
5. Concession Precautions
To make sure they lower the risks of the concession stands, theaters are limiting their options and will not be offering drink or popcorn refills until further notice. This is a big change as the refills offered on large items at REGAL locations is one of the only justifiers for the outrageous prices. Along with this, locations with dining services will also temporarily halt services. Bar locations will remain open on a theater by theater basis, but it will be walk up only.
Overall, to me REGAL, AMC, and all the other theater chains are implementing great safety procedures. It becomes even more safe if you download their respective apps where you can skip lines all together and purchase tickets and concessions through your phone. Overall, I feel more safe in a movie theater with its vaulted ceilings, limited traffic, and new extensive cleaning procedures than I would in a restaurant. That said, health and safety remain priority number one. If you are at a theater that seems too crowded or there is someone there not following safety procedures, then leave. Movies are back for as long as we keep them safe. For a full list of your specific theater’s policies, I urge you to visit their website or mobile app. Happy movie going!