I’m Back! – The Post-Quarantine Return to the Theater in New York State

After 7.5 months, movie theaters begin to reopen in parts of New York State. Matt Marshall takes a personal look at this post-quarantine road back to the cinema.

After 7 Months, It’s Showtime for Some of New York

228 days. For a while there, I was uncertain when I’d even see another movie in theaters again. I’d honestly have to go all the way back to 1997 to remember an even longer theater-going gap. Pre-COVID, watching multiple movies a weeks in a Western New York theater was the norm. Then, the pandemic happened (still happening unfortunately). My main escape was temporarily gone. With No Time to Die, Wonder Woman 1984 and The New Mutants pushed back time after time, my optimism went south rather fast. Tenet was the last film standing from the summer. But even the Christopher Nolan flick couldn’t hold onto its initial release date.

There was some light towards the end of August. Theaters started opening up a week or two before Labor Day. Would audiences turn out for Unhinged, then The New Mutants a week later? The box office needle didn’t move much. But, Tenet was supposed to be the real hook. The savior of the pandemic box office! Well, not exactly. Given the current climate, the first $20 million opening in six months was impressive. It still wasn’t enough to sustain a decent 2020 release schedule. Tentpoles such as No Time to Time (April 2), Black Widow (May 7),  F9 (May 28) and Dune (October 1) jumped ship for 2021 dates. Are these constant moves frustrating? Yes and no.

And even if films like Unhinged and The New Mutants have been moderately performing, California and New York have been missing out for the past two months. The nation’s two biggest theatrical markets still shut down after seven long months. That is, until little over a week ago. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the reopening of New York theaters starting on October 23. Moviegoers in New York City still can’t experience a film like Tenet on the big screen. However, smaller New York markets like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany finally can. That came two weeks after Regal Cinemas and parent company Cineworld announced a second nationwide shutdown. In response, Regal reversed the temporary closure for those particular areas. I was ecstatic when the news broke. 228 days were coming to an end.

Rochester in particular has 10 theaters for the area. Four Regal Cinemas, One Cinemark, One AMC and four independent theaters. As of Friday, only one Regal and AMC opened its doors. Okay, so I drive 20 miles instead of my usual four miles. But that didn’t matter. It was more realistic than driving over two hours to Pennsylvania for a movie. Even for Tenet, a six-hour round trip investment would’ve been overkill. Passion only goes so far.

Elizabeth Debicki, John David Washington – WARNER BROS.

SEE ALSO:  COVID-19 and the Future of the Movie-Going Experience

Like anything right now, movie-going has its risks. To be honest, I felt more comfortable going to the movies than I have eating out or shopping at various big box chains in recent months. Theaters in New York are capped off at 25% capacity (50 person maximum). Social distancing, face masks and sanitation were implemented throughout the theater. The closest person in the theater was 30 feet away. While I was out in public, the space apart still felt like a safe bubble. Even wearing a mask for nearly three hours straight wasn’t too bad. I typically work with one on for eight hours a day. Personally, three hours is a cakewalk and worth the protection to experience this semi-norm again.

As much as I’ve grown accustomed to my home theater setup during quarantine, there’s no feeling like the initial theater experience. I tried watching both Trolls World Tour and Mulan on PVOD. Yes, it’s a pricey convenience, but not a definitive replacement for going the movies. A film like Tenet needs to be seen on the big screen, even if there’s only a handful of people in the audience. But we’re not going to go back to that event atmosphere anytime soon. An opening night experience like Avengers: Endgame or Star Wars: The Force Awakens might not even happen until 2022 or later. And I accept that. But I’m grateful to just experience movies on the big screen once again.

My experience over the weekend was emotionally moving to say the least. My lost optimism over the past few months was reignited. Even back in May, I don’t think I would’ve been comfortable going to the theaters. Much of that was thanks to a 2.5 month quarantine. I’ll admit at times my patience was thin when some entertainment in the state could reopen in June, while theaters were constantly pushed back. Fortunately, New York is no longer the hot spot it was at the start of the pandemic. I hope the situation improves in the other parts of the country. While New York state is less infectious than in April, the countless effects are felt all over.

If you feel or don’t feel comfortable going to the movies right now it’s understandable either way. But I don’t ever want to see theaters become a thing of the past.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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