The “New Normal” at Movie Theaters
PUBLISHED: Monday, October 26, 2020

The “New Normal” at Movie Theaters

Novel coronavirus has had a detrimental impact on nearly every industry in the United States. Supply chains have been disrupted, an incredible number of workers have shifted to telecommuting with little planning or preparation, and retailers have had to rethink strategies for stocking shelves and hosting shoppers. But few sectors were brought to an utter standstill like the entertainment industry. Filming for movies and television shows stopped, quite literally, overnight. Movie theaters and concert venues across the country were shuttered due to prohibitions against large gatherings.

Now, though, some of those restrictions are being lifted. Movie theaters are reopening, and major studios are testing the market with a slow trickle of new releases both large and small. But we’re not likely to return to a pre-pandemic environment in our local cinemas for quite some time. So, what could the “new normal” look like for movie theaters and patrons?

No Full Houses Anytime Soon

In states and municipalities where theaters are reopening for business, they’re almost universally running at reduced capacity and with additional safety protocols in place. Some are only admitting 50% (or less) of an individual screening room’s capacity for a given showing. Others are requiring patrons to sit six feet apart by removing seats or otherwise making them unusable. Most theaters are requiring patrons to wear face coverings when not eating, and some have stopped selling concessions to encourage patrons to stay masked for the duration of their visit. The specifics vary from location to location, but the result is the same: you won’t be seeing a movie in a theater packed with rabid, yelling fans for some time to come.

The Resurgence of Drive-In Theaters

One of the most interesting effects of novel coronavirus has been the new lease on life it’s brought to drive-in theaters, at least where they still exist. Many have stayed open through the summer by showing a mix of new and classic films, sometimes in the form of double features. For many, their first exposure to both of those stalwarts of American culture—the drive-in and the double feature—has been because of the pandemic. While the explosion in popularity might be temporary, we could also see a lasting renaissance for drive-in theaters as a new generation of moviegoers fall in love with the unique environment and experience offered by the venues.

While novel coronavirus has clearly changed the cinema experience, it hasn’t all been for the worse. Those of us who love to catch midnight screenings of our favorite new science fiction or superhero movies and be surrounded by throngs of other dedicated fans may lose that celebratory environment for the foreseeable future, but an icon of Americana has been revived—maybe even for the long haul. The “new normal” for moviegoers in the US might be dramatically different, at least in the short term. But we’ve already shown that we can adapt.