The global pandemic hit movie fans especially hard, as theaters around the world were temporarily closed. Streaming may have helped some people get their fix at home, but for many movie lovers, you just can’t beat the immersive experience of the big screen. As the world begins to navigate how to share entertainment experiences together again, movie theaters are on the forefront of safety measures designed to help welcome audiences back.
Theaters around the globe have been successfully leading the charge, and this Labor Day Weekend marks the big return to the movies here in the U.S. with the domestic premiere of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, the first action-packed blockbuster of the fall season. But it’s the action taking place behind the scenes at your local movie theater that really matters, with safety being the top priority for Hollywood, exhibitors, and movie fans alike.
The U.S. movie exhibition industry, led by the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), has launched CinemaSafe, a historic alliance of 320 movie theater companies representing over 30,000 screens nationwide that have come together to commit to implement expert-backed, industry-specific health and safety protocols as theaters reopen around the country. This program puts the health and safety of guests and employees at the center of movie theater operations, and features numerous in-theater initiatives including face coverings, social distancing, reduced capacity and concessions, and electronic ticketing. The measures are not only based on recommendations from leading epidemiologists, but also on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Many leading exhibitors participating in the CinemaSafe program also have their own safety initiatives in place, including AMC Safe & Clean, The Cinemark Standard, and Regal‘s extensive new program, all of which include social distancing and reduced auditorium capacities, masks, air filtration systems, cashless transactions, and many sophisticated and enhanced cleaning protocols. Movie fans planning their first movie night out in months can look for the CinemaSafe green checkmark logo on theater signage and websites to identify participating theaters.
These new safety protocols have been effectively introduced across America over the last several weeks, following local and state guidelines, as theaters have geared up for the big premiere of Tenet by showing a mix of classic titles and new releases like Russell Crowe’s Unhinged and Marvel’s The New Mutants. AMC had more than 70% of its domestic theaters open last week, and it expects to open around 140 additional theaters for the three-day Labor Day weekend, including several theaters in California. Cinemark is also reopening additional theaters in California, New Jersey, Arizona, and more this week, and Regal confirmed that it will have its cinemas reopened in time for this weekend’s release of Tenet in New Jersey, Maryland, and some cities in California.
Thanks to these theater safety efforts and emerging research that points to the idea that movie theaters pose less COVID-19 risk than most other indoor venues due to the facts that masks are required, six-foot social distancing can be practiced, and people are all facing the same direction and are not talking during the movie (we hope!), audiences are becoming increasingly comfortable with getting back to the big screen. The research team at National CineMedia (NCM) regularly polls our exclusive Behind The Screens panel of movie superfans, and of those that have already returned to see a movie on the big screen, an overwhelming 98% reported a positive experience.
For those in areas of the country where theaters have yet to reopen, the desire to get back to the movies continues to grow stronger as people tire of watching movies at home and have run out of streaming series to watch. 94% of Behind The Screens survey respondents say they miss going to a movie theater to watch movies, and “Going to the Movies” has consistently ranked #1 as the top out-of-home activity they were most looking forward to doing once government restrictions are lifted. In fact, of the moviegoers we surveyed, 75% plan to return to theaters either “as soon as possible” or within 1-3 months after theaters reopen, with another 21% planning to return after 4 months or more, for a total of 96% of movie lovers planning to go back to the cinema soon.
Movies are one of the ultimate forms of escapism, which is why the movie business has historically done so well during difficult or recessionary times. So while your local theater may look a little different than it did the last time you were there, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the magic of the cinema.
We’ll see you at the movies!