Moviegoing in a pandemic: Is seeing a flick at a reopening theater worth the risk?

Graphic by Dana Capistrano/GRAPHICS CENTER

Devyn McCray is a junior biology major.

As coronavirus restrictions have loosened across the nation, movie theaters have begun to reopen. AMC and Regal Cinemas announced their reopening plans on Aug. 13 and, since Aug. 21, its theaters have begun showing new releases and throwback movies. AMC has even released an incentive in honor of its 100th anniversary — charging 15 cents per ticket, a tribute to tickets costing this price 100 years ago. However, as much as we might miss our buttered popcorn and cherry Icees, we should consider whether to storm the theaters just yet.

I will be the first to say that I have been personally waiting for this day to come since theaters shut down in March. I grew up in movie theaters all across California — movies were what brought my dad and me together after my parents split up. During that time of my life, I saw a film with my dad every other weekend, no matter what was playing. Naturally, when I heard that theaters were reopening, my dad was the first person I called. In the weeks following, we had already begun planning the first movies we would see and the snacks we would order. I could already smell the popcorn and feel the air-conditioning blasting on my skin.

Despite my excitement, in light of the new risks, I felt hesitant to re-enter a place that I feel so at home at. Although moviegoing has been bringing people together for a century, large indoor congregations during a pandemic are anything but ideal. Shortly after AMC and Regal’s reopening announcements, people began raising safety concerns, causing many precautions to be put in place. Masks are required, but concessions will still be sold, meaning people can take their masks off to eat. One seat will be roped off in between each party, but that distance is still narrower than the recommended guideline of six feet. While measures are being taken to attempt to bring movie-goers back into theaters, they are far from guaranteeing safety, and I ultimately decided that I won’t be returning to the cinema anytime soon. Going to a movie theater right now is like gambling with your health, and I, for one, am not yet willing to do that, no matter how much I’ve been craving Red Vines and an ice-cold jumbo Sprite.

So, what can we do instead to stay safe? Well, there are plenty of alternatives. In terms of San Francisco, our beloved Balboa Theater has been offering daily virtual movie screenings on their website. All you have to do is pick a showing, throw some popcorn in the microwave or bust out your bag of White Cheddar Skinny Pop, and enjoy a movie with your roommates or family. Better yet, if you’re specifically craving movie theater popcorn, Balboa is also offering socially-distanced Popcorn Pop-ups outside their doors. You can walk up and buy popcorn, beer, and merchandise that gives a direct donation to Balboa’s employees and the survival of a small business. Picking up a fresh batch of popcorn and returning home for a virtual screening is a great way to recreate the theater experience within the comfort and safety of your own home.

A nostalgic way to simulate the moviegoing experience would be to cruise into one of the many drive-in theaters that have popped up across the country — a trend that originated in the 1930s. It’s effortless to get in your car, park, and enjoy a screening from your enclosed vehicle. Concession stands are often open, so movie snacks are covered if you don’t feel like packing a cooler. 

For those looking to stay home, there are a number of streaming services, like Vudu and Amazon Prime Video, premiering new releases as we speak. With technology at our fingertips, watching movies has never been so simple. 

That said, if you can’t wait to return to the theater in-person, take every precaution. Make sure to socially distance from those around you, and wear your mask at all times. Even though some aspects of our lives are beginning to return to normal, we must continue to act responsibly. Adaptability has definitely been the theme of the pandemic, and in the words of Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” It’s our job to make the best out of our unprecedented circumstances, even if they are pandemic-infused chocolates.

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