Indeed, crowded theaters with packed seating to watch Hollywood’s latest releases posed a tremendous risk to Americans’ health when COVID-19 infection rates were at their peak, testing was scarce and effective vaccines were nonexistent.
But as the vaccine rollout accelerates and restrictions on businesses loosen, cinema operators are reopening theaters with social distancing and other safety measures in place.
For example, the iconic TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California, reopened this week with a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the return of audiences. Masks are required and patrons must keep six feet of distance from one another. Groups will be separated by plexiglass seat dividers.
Regal Cinemas is also slated to reopen hundreds of screens in California, Florida, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Washington on Friday, allowing major studios to release a backlog of titles whose openings were delayed due to the pandemic.
It remains to be seen whether U.S. audiences will feel safe returning to theaters. Studios have been eyeing trends in China and other foreign countries, where pent-up moviegoers have eagerly returned to theaters.
Hollywood is hoping American audiences will share foreigners’ same enthusiasm. Warner Brothers’ and Legendary Entertainment’s Godzilla vs. Kong raked in $70 million in China on its opening weekend.
Highlighting sanitation and safety measures will be essential to luring audiences back to theaters.
IMAX chief executive Richard Gelfond told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan that safety is top of mind as theaters reopen:
“They have to evoke cleanliness when you come in and I think the staff has to continue to egress and exit in certain ways that make people feel safe,” Gelfond said.