Coming Soon to a Theater Near You – COVID-19!


Coming Soon to a Theater Near You – COVID-19!

Article by Ray Schillaci

As of June 29th, a startling report came out of Michigan regarding 85 people contracting COVID-19 from a bar that had a capacity of 200. The average movie theater capacity is 200-300. Even with precautions taken (sanitizing stations, essential mask wearing, social distancing), the thought of movie theaters opening soon sounds ridiculous during a pandemic whose curve is far from flattening and in many states hospital capacities are over 60% and climbing.

Who will actually take the risk to go to the movies? More than likely the younger set, as proven by so many who have contracted the virus at large gatherings just as with bars, houses of worship and/or rallies. Can the movie chains rely on audience attendance when the message is being hammered into us that everyone’s decision making could be a death warrant to parents, grandparents or anyone else with underlying conditions?

The idea of a tent pole movie during these times just does not seem to be a wise decision for both the industry and the theater chains. This especially holds true in larger cities – Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc. – where the bulk of an audience gravitates to summer blockbusters. How can the theater chain owners possibly tempt the fates, placing groups of people in an enclosed area, encouraging them to munch down on their confections while they laugh, gasp and cry with the likelihood of breathing in the virus. This was frighteningly foretold in the 1995 film Outbreak with an attendee coughing in the movie theater and the infection fast spreading.

Will the theater chains insist on patrons absolving themselves of any lawsuit if they contract the virus as was done at the rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma? That could lead to even more hesitation. How will the chains empty the theaters? Do they honestly believe that they can herd everyone out safely keeping them 6 to 8 feet apart?

What do the theater chains rely on most? Not so much the movies, but their popcorn, candy, other foods and drinks. Are people going to take off their masks to eat popcorn and then put the mask back on? Hell, we can’t even get a Trader Joe’s customer to wear one.

Are the theaters going to hire more people to monitor health hazards, insist on crowd control and security for the anti-maskers? All the time knowing that they can only start off at 25% capacity and, if all goes well, in a couple weeks perhaps graduate to 50%? All of this sounds like pie in the sky and nobody is going to get any joy out of it. I predict that if the virus continues on the same course along with the habits of so many science deniers, then movie theaters and the film industry will find themselves on the same path as the bars that have all been shut down in a matter of weeks by several states.

Now, I hate to be gloom and doom. I love going to the movies, seeing a film on the big screen with great sound and sharing my emotions with the rest of the audience. But, not at the risk of possibly getting very sick, dying or passing it onto someone and having them die alone. For now, several studios should continue their practice of home releases. It may not be the same, but it feels like a comfortable compromise.

Sure, this is probably blasphemy to someone like Christopher Nolan whose film Tenet was supposed to usher in the opening of big films in July. Frankly, I could not understand that thinking after having seen the previews, and being disappointed in both Dunkirk and Interstellar. But, as with many other large scale movies, the studio has pushed its release further down the line to August. Probably in the hopes of the virus dying off in the summer heat, an early vaccine release (doubtful) or just biding time for the next release date.

Other films have followed with even more precaution starting with Wonder Woman 1984 now with a scheduled release date of October followed by the new Bond movie, Disney/Pixar’s Soul and Marvel’s Black Widow due out in November, and Top Gun: Maverick not taking any chances and opening at the end of December. What none of these releases are taking into consideration is the prediction of a second wave of COVID-19 and the flu during the fall and winter season.

The one bright shiny moment for nostalgia buffs is that the popularity of drive-ins is making a comeback. One example, the Mission Tiki Drive-in Theatre in Montclair, CA is a restored 67 acre movie mecca from 1956 with thatched ticket booths and family friendly prices; $10 Adults and $9 for kids. It fancies four large outdoor screens and adheres to the recent health and safety codes and has become more popular than ever since the closing of the big chain theaters.

We can only imagine what the future holds for the big chain theaters. Will people flock to the grand reopening or wait for an all-clear from the CDC? Will patrons be willing to adhere to safety and health guidelines? Most important, will the popcorn taste just as good each time we flip the mask on and off?

Some of you will probably find out these questions real soon while I take a “sit, wait and be cautious” attitude since I’ve had several people I know pass away from this pandemic. In the meantime, the thing we all miss, coming attractions of Black Widow, Soul, No Time to Die, and Wonder Woman 1984 may not be able to be seen on the big screen, but can be enjoyed along with many others on YouTube having us delight in the anticipation of it all.

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