The Movie Theater Experience is At Risk


It is clear that the cinematic experience we once knew and loved will likely not be the same, at least for the time being. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Carolyn Branigan, Contributing Writer

Movie theaters are suffering just as much, if not more, than other nonessential businesses since their closure last spring. Although they have reopened in many states, including New York, those who expect the movie theater experience to return to its pre-pandemic state are going to be sorely disappointed. Even when restrictions are fully lifted, the hit that movie theaters have taken will leave a lasting mark for years to come.

As it currently stands per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s orders, the movie theater reopening on March 5 comes with substantial restrictions. Now required to operate at a 25% capacity, New York City movie theaters are not able to fill seats as they used to. Concession stands are closed because of the health risk they pose, making it even more difficult for businesses to earn back the money the pandemic took from them. 

Similar to most reopened establishments, movie-goers are required to wear face masks  and sit at least six feet apart from other parties. Many of these businesses have issued statements assuring customers that all theaters are being properly cleaned and sanitized in compliance with CDC guidelines in attempts to draw in business. While these reopening protocols are no different than expected, these efforts will likely not be enough to restore movie theaters to the way they were before.

For someone who visits movie theaters specifically for their unique experience, these restrictions definitely put a damper on potential sales because they corrupt that unique movie-watching experience. Going out with friends and family, ordering snacks and watching a movie is a part of what makes a trip to the movie theater so enjoyable for many. When that aspect is taken away from the cinema, there is really no reason to go other than to support businesses, which hinders the ability of these theaters to attract audiences.

Even worse, movie theaters were suffering before the pandemic even began. With online streaming services gaining popularity, movie theater giants such as AMC have lost money trying to keep up with these emerging entertainment platforms. AMC faced the risk of imminent bankruptcy, and while the company has managed to stay afloat for the time being, there is no telling whether or not the company can fully weather the storm.

Another major damper on the reopening of NYC theaters has to do with the lack of movies that are available. As of now, there are no big-ticket movie projects being released exclusively to movie theaters. The next ones are not hitting theaters until Thanksgiving. With that long of a wait, it is unlikely that these businesses will have enough traffic to remain profitable.

Movie theaters do not have the allure they once had. Since government officials still encourage citizens to exercise extreme caution when going out, many people fear returning to places they once frequented. Because movie theaters are indoors, the potential for contracting COVID-19 in this setting is higher than a similar outdoor activity.

From this risk alone, it is clear that the cinematic experience we once knew and loved will likely not be the same, at least for the time being. These businesses may stand a fighting chance if restrictions are completely removed, but it is too soon to say exactly when that might be.

Carolyn Branigan, FCRH ’24, is an English major from Tinton Falls, N.J.