COVID-19 and the new movie theatre experience

Photo by Darien Funk

For months COVID-19 has damaged business all around the world. The situation has been difficult for many industries, but one that may have been impacted the most is movie theater companies.

If you haven’t been to the movies in a while you’re not alone. For several months after the lockdown was implemented, theaters remained closed for public safety purposes. 

This came at possibly the worst time for theaters — attendance and interest in going to the movies has been on a steady decline over the past few decades. 

It has never been easier to watch a movie from home, causing many to skip the theater experience entirely. When theaters had to close their doors, it was only another excuse for people to acclimate themselves to watching movies at home.

So, even when the pandemic is over and theaters are back to being operational, it is likely that much of its already dwindling audience won’t return to the theaters. 

For those who aren’t aware, many movie theaters are in fact open during these trying times. I found a Cineplex in my area that was operating, which I’ve managed to visit twice. 

The first time I went it was a ghost town — save for five bored employees. Admittedly, it was around 2:30 on a weekday but with so few other options, I still expected more people to show. 

I talked with one of the employees at the concessions who said that this scene was pretty normal. The theaters were seating at half capacity or less and the employee admitted filling half a theatre was rare over the last week. 

I found that the theaters took several precautions. Just like all indoor areas in Ontario, masks are required to be worn at all times—with leniency in regards to snacks.

I was pleased to see all the employees following this rule and frequently cleaning around the lobby. There was a large sign at the entrance reminding patrons to social distance and wash their hands frequently. 

There were also movie theater specific precautions. Box office ticket purchasing was closed with signs telling customers to instead use a self-service station or purchase tickets online. 

As well, the theatre’s small arcade was off-limits — all games and token machines turned off.

Sitting in the theater alone was surreal—suffice to say I dominated TimePlay. Eventually, a mother came in with her son, bringing the attendance of the theatre to a total of three. 

Seating is arranged into pairs with four seats in between before the next pair. I also learned that if only one of the two seats are purchased, the second seat would automatically be restricted to others.

It was interesting looking at the posters in the hallways. There’s something both depressing yet hilarious about seeing the Black Widow poster with the release date of May 1. 

On that note, the selection of films to choose from didn’t do the theater any favors. From what I could tell there were four films available the day I was there. 

Two of which I’d never heard of: Target Number One and Unhinged. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run was also available, but other than that, there were no North American films available — while none of the three above piqued my interest. 

However, there was a South Korean film called Peninsula, a zombie action movie that takes place in the same cinematic universe as Train to Busan—an enjoyable horror flick.

I was over the moon to see a foreign film being played in a North American theater. As a lover of all types of films — regardless of borders — I’m glad that a movie from South Korea was being screened. 

With Parasite’s successes last year and now this, I think the industry is beginning to see a market of people interested in South Korean films. 

Upon my second trip to the theater, I went with a few friends and was delighted to find that Inception was playing for its tenth anniversary. 

Aside from the mixed benefits of film choices, it is clear that COVID-19 has been a disaster for the movie theater industry. The ramifications of this global event will be felt throughout the industry for an indefinite amount of time. 

Scheduling conflicts, delays and film cancelations due to quarantine are likely going to result in fewer films from major studios and independent filmmakers. 

We are entering a scary and unpredictable time in cinema history. It is up to how the film studios and theaters react to this conflict that will determine the future of movies for years to come.

Leave a Reply