The New Big Step for Cinema in a Global Pandemic

This week marks the return of movie theaters throughout the world, with the releases of Disney’s “Mulan” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” bringing life back to the film industry after months of On-Demand films and a lack of box office sales.

Despite various delays for films, many are still being released on digital services. However, the decision for some films to be released in theaters during the pandemic could prove to put more people at risk. Movie theater chains have been issuing new policies to help with the prevention of COVID-19 in preparation for their reopenings,

“It’s just about conveying to customers right now that they’re taking the safety precautions that customers want to see,” Phil Contrino said, the director of media and research for the National Association of Theatre Owners according to USA Today. “The experience is obviously going to be different when people come back, but it will evolve to meet how things change from moment to moment as more guidance comes out.” 

Currently, all theater chains have been implementing their own measures to ensure the prevention and reduced risk of COVID-19 for both guests and employees. This includes taking precautions such as proper social distancing in auditoriums and contactless payment methods at concessions and box office. In California, two of the biggest theater chains, AMC and Regal Cinemas, have implemented differing sets of guidelines to protect customers and workers alike.

AMC requires face masks to be worn at all times except when dining or drinking. Anyone who shows up to the theater without a mask can buy one for $1. Seating has been reduced by 30% capacity or less and only every other row will be occupied. Cash won’t be allowed in order to encourage contactless payment. 

Regal Cinemas, however, is requiring masks for the lobby and hallways but they are optional in the auditoriums for food and drink. Contactless payment is preferred but cash is still accepted. Seating is reduced to 50% capacity and requires a two-seat gap between guests to maintain social distancing. While Regal Cinema’s policies are a bit more lenient than AMC, its “CinemaSafe” news release tells of what the theater chain will be doing moving forward to keep everyone safe. 

Regal continues to work closely with the relevant authorities and safety measures will be constantly monitored and adjusted according to the requirements.” Regal Cinema’s said on the CinemaSafe Protocol press release on their web page. “We have also reviewed our plans with an infectious diseases expert, who stated that ‘Regal Theatres’ reopening plan is consistent with the safety practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for operating public event spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic’.” 

Despite all the precautions and safety procedures these big movie theater chains are implementing into their businesses, there’s still a risk of contracting this life-threatening disease just to see a movie. Newer films such as “Mulan” and “Bill and Ted Face the Music,” are still available to rent and watch at home through On-Demand services like Disney Plus, Amazon Prime and Spectrum, with the exception of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.”

 It’s hard to determine what kind of audience these releases are going for since most can also be seen at home. “Tenet” stands as the exception, but that’s only because it is such a big-budget film at $200 million, and would experience severe losses to the production company if they had gone the On-Demand route. Compared to other films releasing this week like “Bill and Ted Face the Music,” with a budget of $25 million and “The New Mutants” at $67 million.

“It’s ridiculous,” Bernada Marquez said, mother of two and caretaker for an elderly home, in response to the news of the theater reopenings. “Yes it’s good to keep families and parents and their children entertained during a time like this but this encourages more companies and more people to ignore the bigger issue that’s out there, the issue that is killing people and that is making things worse and worse for everybody, there’s no end to it.” 

No one knows how the reopening of California movie theaters will affect the ongoing pandemic. Even when CDC guidelines are followed, people still risk infection. What a truly safe future for theaters looks like in the new normal is still being determined. 

Edwards Regal Cinemas Theater 21, Irvine Spectrum Center. The Commons at Irvine Spectrum Center