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Masks at the movies aren’t just for superheroes

Major theater chains reopen with new coronavirus precautions

Moviegoers at a theater in Beijing in July Associated Press/Photo by Mark Schiefelbein (file)

Masks at the movies aren’t just for superheroes

More film lovers can go back to the movies this week, but they should be prepared to pay more, wear masks, and choose from a limited number of releases.

After months of closures and start-up delays due to COVID-19, major movie theater chains have announced detailed reopening schedules. AMC Theatres, the nation’s largest chain, plans to resume showing movies at two-thirds of its more than 600 U.S. venues by Sept. 3, beginning on Thursday with 100 openings to celebrate the company’s century of operation. No. 2 Regal Cinemas will offer U.S. screenings starting on Friday. The smaller Cinemark chain already has opened in some areas of the country, as state and local health mandates continue to dictate individual theater openings.

Movie studios hope to lure audiences back with new releases such as Unhinged starring Russell Crowe (Friday), Marvel’s The New Mutants (Aug. 28), Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (Sept. 3), and My Brother’s Crossing (Sept. 3), a film about forgiveness. Theaters also will rerun favorites like Inception, Back to the Future, Black Panther, and Beauty and the Beast. On Thursday only, AMC, as part of its anniversary celebration, will show some of those favorites at 1920s prices: 15 cents a ticket.

Once inside, moviegoers can expect widespread changes. Strict protocols to keep patrons and staff safe will include limited and spaced seating, staggered showtimes to reduce congestion, extra cleaning and disinfecting, contactless payment options, multiple sanitizer and wipe stations, daily staff coronavirus testing, and mandatory masks for all. AMC will require masks throughout the theater unless eating or drinking. Regal and Cinemark won’t require them in auditoriums. Look for ticket and concession prices to rise with increased cleaning costs. Concession stands will offer limited menus with items like nachos, hot dogs, candy, popcorn, and soft drinks—no refills.

With the filming of most new movies indefinitely delayed and health mandates changing often, Hollywood and Wall Street will watch movie theater reopenings and audience numbers closely. If theaters can’t make enough money, studios will continue to release movies on streaming platforms. Disney plans to forego theaters with the much-anticipated release of the live-action Mulan on Sept. 4. Subscribers to Disney+ can watch it at home for an extra $30. The fee is less than the typical price of taking the family to the movies and includes unlimited viewings.

Going forward, theater-released movies may no longer routinely take 90 days to reach digital platforms. In early August, AMC cut a deal with Universal Pictures for the studio’s movies to go digital just 17 days after they debut in theaters. Universal can then rent the films for a minimum of $20 to viewers for 48 hours, with a percentage going to AMC.

While Regal and Cinemark haven’t bought into the new concept, Adam Aron, CEO of AMC, doesn’t think it will dissuade people from going to theaters, noting, “I’m expecting that this is going to become an industry standard.” If it ultimately means more money and a wider audience, Hollywood and investors will want more of the same.

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Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a senior writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and holds two master’s degrees. She has served as university teacher, businesswoman, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, and Division 1 athlete. Sharon resides in Stillwater, Minn., with her husband, Bill.


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