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It’s difficult to believe movie theaters will be opening again soon. With so many delays and schedule adjustments—many of which we covered extensively—the idea of seeing a movie felt like a distant dream. Nevertheless, movie theaters will be opening far sooner than many of us anticipated. As we sit on the precipice on these openings, it’s easy to wonder: What will going to the movies during coronavirus look like? The answer, much like everything surrounding the 'rona, is decidedly complicated—with few clear answers in sight.
As it stands now, late July is the target date for the majority of theater chains in the United States to re-open; Cinemark has staked out July 24 as the day they’ll start, while AMC and Regal will see their locations open on July 30th and 31st, respectively. Lingering in the background of all this is, of course, Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.
Now set to release on August 12 (after having its release date pushed back twice already), Tenet has slowly become the (un-)official film theaters have oriented themselves around. As these chains continue to struggle in the era of VOD, Nolan’s clout and stature within the eyes of the viewing public makes his movies feel weighty and special in the way others aren’t. They’re movies to be experienced—preferably on the biggest screen possible. Tenet is poised to be a financial oasis in the middle of a barren desert for theater chains, having been out of business since roughly mid-March. Opening a few weeks ahead of time gives AMC, Regal, and Cinemark a few weeks to work out the kinks in their new operating procedures ahead of the cash cow they so desperately need.
We’re seeing some of those operating changes play out in real-time. Upon its announcement about opening back up, AMC CEO Adam Aron initially declared the chain would not require patrons to wear a face mask as to not be “drawn into a political controversy.” The reception to Aron’s quote was received quite poorly; the hashtag #BoycottAMC trended on Twitter shortly thereafter and received vocal pushback from filmmakers like Doctor Sleep’s Mike Flanagan.
AMC reversed its policy on Friday, June 19 and will now require all moviegoers to wear masks and will go so far as to offer attendees the chance to purchase one for $1 should they forget to bring a covering. Regal Theaters, after “feedback from our customers,” moved to implement a similar rule after the fracas around AMC and will provide disposable coverings for those who don’t have one already. Cinemark’s policy, however, is a little more vague stating, “Cinemark requires guests to wear face masks where locally mandated, and we strongly encourage all guests to do so, even where not required.” The language, bolded for emphasis by the company, is a little unclear and feels like the written equivalent of a shrug emoji.