Here's When Movie Theaters Will Be Safe Again, According to Experts

Reopened movie theaters will need safety measures to protect audience members from coronavirus.

For months, movie theaters have been shuttered, leaving people to binge-watch movies at home. Many of us miss the experience of sitting in front of the big screen with a bucket of popcorn and surround sound. And more pressingly, theater owners and staff are missing their income. As parts of the country begin to reopen in stages, some theaters have already begun to welcome audiences again, while others are waiting hesitantly. But at this point, the question for potential audience members is less when movie theaters will reopen, and more when they'll be safe again.

Among the movie theaters that have reopened is EVO Entertainment, a Texas-based theater chain. On May 4, EVO reopened two of their theaters in Kyle and Schertz, Texas, to a limited capacity audience. Mitchell Roberts, CEO of EVO Entertainment Group, took advantage of Texas governor Greg Abbott's April 27 order that approved movie theaters to begin reopening in the state beginning May 1, at up to 25 percent of the venues' maximum capacity.

Roberts says he and his team were preparing for reopening while the theaters were closed. "Our team created a comprehensive reopening plan and purchased the tools and implemented changes to our venues that were necessary to ensure the increased safety and health of our team members and guests upon reopening," he says.

Many of the changes implemented by Roberts will likely be replicated at other movie theaters as they begin the road to reopening: "the elimination of the box office and moving to online and self-service ticket purchases, implementing order-ahead services for concessions and dynamic spaced seating within theaters, implementing 10-foot spacing between guests using floor markers in all common areas, taking staff and guest temperature checks upon entry to either EVO venue, [and] requiring and providing face masks for staff and guest use while onsite."

The go-ahead from the governor and the protocols put in place were enough for Roberts to feel confident that EVO is "providing a safe cinematic experience for those who visit." Many theaters, however, are still skeptical about hosting audiences again, even in states where they are legally able to do so. According to The New York Times, some theaters are anxious to reopen and risk becoming stigmatized as dangerous spots if they are tied to an outbreak. Additionally, with the next batch of new movies not slated to come out until mid-July, theaters could potentially lose more money preemptively opening than they would if they remained closed.

Movie theater

Chris Escobar, who owns the Plaza Theater in Atlanta, told The New York Times that he would not be following the state's guidance on reopening. "When we do [reopen], it will not be because of political pressure. It will be because leading public health experts say our lives are no longer at risk," he said. He echoed the concern of coronavirus infections being linked to his theater.

It seems that larger chains—like AMC, Regal, and Cinemark—are erring on the side of caution as well. AMC CEO Adam Aron has said from the beginning, "the health and well-being of AMC guests and employees, and all Americans takes precedence above all else." Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi is hoping to begin reopening some locations starting July 1, but he has mapped out various scenarios depending on government regulations.

Experts have differing opinions on when it will be safe to return to movie theaters, but we will soon be able to learn from the early reopenings of select theaters. In the meantime, potential audience members may not feel overly eager to return. According to Azurite Consulting's COVID-19 Impact on Business Survey, many Americans are unwilling to resume their past recreational activities until a coronavirus vaccine is available.

As more theaters prepare to reopen, they will have a lot of work to do to keep customers healthy—and to make them feel safe. As Alison Kozberg, managing director of Art House Convergence, told NPR, "Reopening might actually require a substantial amount of investment on the part of theaters … It would require buying new equipment and new hygiene products to keep the theater clean and safe in accordance with guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID." For some theaters, that cost could be prohibitive.

You can expect to see more movie theaters reopening mid-summer in different parts of the country, but don't expect your experience to be the same as it was before the coronavirus pandemic. Like going to concerts and hanging out with friends, even without government restrictions, certain safety measures will have to be taken in order to prevent potential outbreaks—and the dreaded second wave of coronavirus. And for more on how movie theaters will need to change, check out these 5 Things You'll Never See at Movie Theaters Again After Coronavirus.

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