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Here’s what to expect (yes, masks)



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A diner in New York City has converted its parking lot into a drive-in movie theater during the coronavirus pandemic. (May 15)

AP Domestic

Movie theaters are finally ready to unlock their doors for the shortened summer movie season. But what will the experience feel like in the midst of a global pandemic?

Most indoor theaters are taking precautions to ensure proper social distancing and reduce in-person contact while allowing moviegoers to enjoy new Hollywood films such as Disney’s live-action “Mulan” (slated for Aug. 21) and Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller “Tenet” (Aug. 12). Sanitation measures include contactless payment options and reduced auditorium capacities. 

Theaters will have to be extra-cautious, says Phil Contrino, director of media and research for the National Association of Theatre Owners. But he’s still optimistic about bringing back an “experience that a lot of people miss.”

“It’s just about conveying to customers right now that they’re taking the safety precautions that customers want to see,” he says. “The experience is obviously going to be different when people come back, but it will evolve to meet how things change from moment to moment as more guidance comes out.”

Wondering if you need to pack your face mask? Hesitant to carry cash? We’ve put together a list of the COVID-19 protocols in place at seven of the most popular theater chains, along with their reopening dates.

Masks with your ticket? Moviegoing could look quite different post-pandemic

Postponed: ‘Mulan,’ ‘Bill & Ted,’ more movies delayed by coronavirus spikes

AMC Theatres

Reopening date: Most theaters will reopen July 30.

Number of theaters: 8,043 screens in 634 locations 

Mask policy: Guests are required to wear face masks at all times and can only remove them while eating or drinking. Disposable masks will be available at the box office for $1 for those who arrive without. 

Seating: Auditoriums will be reduced to 30% capacity or less, based on municipality guidelines, and every other row will be empty for social distancing. AMC encourages moviegoers to leave an empty seat between their party and other guests.

Cash or credit cards? Cash won’t be accepted at concession stands but may be used to purchase an AMC gift card for food and drinks. 

Tickets: Contactless payment methods are preferred, such as credit, debit or AMC gift cards.

Concessions: A limited menu will be offered to ensure quicker service, but popcorn and soft drinks will be available. Refills are temporarily unavailable.

Coming soon: New releases such as “Tenet,” “Mulan” and “The Broken Hearts Gallery.”

Regal Cinemas 

Reopening date:July 31

Number of theaters: 7,178 screens in 546 theaters

Mask policy: Guests will be required to wear face masks in the lobby, hallways and restrooms and can remove them inside the auditorium while eating and drinking. 

Seating: Depending on state and county mandates, auditorium capacities will be reduced 50%, and two empty seats will be left between groups to maintain social distancing. Group sizes will be limited where required by state or county. 

Cash or credit cards? Contactless payment is preferred; guests can purchase concession items with the Regal mobile app or cash.

Tickets: Available ahead of time on the app, but customers can pay at the theater with cash or credit card. 

Concessions: Every other register will be closed to maintain social distancing, and a reduced menu will be available. Self-service condiment stands are closed, and refills on drinks and popcorn are suspended. Diners, restaurants and in-theater ordering are temporarily suspended, and bars will only be open for walk-up service. Vending machines and water fountains will be closed. 

Coming soon: New Hollywood films such as “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Aug. 28), as well as recent pre-pandemic films such as “Saint Maud” and “The Burnt Orange Heresy.”

Cinemark Theatres 

Reopening date: 6 theaters are open in Texas or Florida; most others will reopen July 24 or thereafter.

Number of theaters: 4,630 screens in 344 theaters

Mask policy: Guests are required to wear face masks at all times, except when eating and drinking inside the auditorium.

Seating: Auditorium capacities will be reduced, and showtimes will be staggered to permit physical distancing.  

Cash or credit cards? Cash won’t be accepted for snack purchases, but can be used to purchase gift cards, which are redeemable at the concession stand. Cinemark prefers contactless payment methods, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay.

Tickets: Customers are encouraged to pre-purchase tickets online.

Concessions: Popcorn and drink refills won’t be offered, but previously refillable sizes will be discounted. Popcorn, soda and candy will still be offered, but favorites such as Pizza Hut may not be available. 

Coming soon: A mix of new films and older classics such as “Scream” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

Marcus Theatres

Reopening date: 6 locations are open, with the rest returning at a future date.

Number of theaters: 1,106 screens in 91 theaters

Mask policy: Guests are encouraged but not required to wear masks. 

Seating: Auditorium capacities will be reduced, and there will be two empty seats between groups for proper social distancing. Showtimes will be staggered to allow a limited number of customers in the theater at a time.  

Cash or credit cards? Cash will be accepted, but contactless payment, such as credit and debit cards, is encouraged. 

Tickets: You can purchase tickets at the box office or order in advance on the Marcus Theatres app or website. 

Concession: Popcorn, soda and candy will be available. Food orders may be placed before arriving at the theater and retrieved at the designated pick-up area. Concession stands will be open for those who prefer to order onsite. Theater bars and lounges will be open limited hours.

Coming soon: Marcus will start by showing movies that were popular when theaters closed, such as “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Bad Boys for Life” and “Jumanji: The Next Level.” Retro classics will also be shown. Tickets will cost $5 and will return to standard pricing once new movies are released. 

B&B Theatres

Reopening date: A dozen locations have reopened in Kansas, Texas, Missouri and Iowa.No date yet set for the rest of the chain’s theaters.

Number of theaters: 418 screens in 48 theaters 

Mask policy: Guests are encouraged but not required to wear masks

Seating: Showtimes are spread out to limit occupancy in common areas. When a guest reserves a seat, the surrounding seats will be unavailable to ensure a 6-foot distance. Recliner auditorium rows are already 7 feet apart.

Cash or credit cards? Cash won’t be accepted to limit interaction.

Tickets: Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online, but they can be purchased in person at the box office.

Concession: Traditional concessions, along with extended menu options, will be available. 

Coming soon: Fan favorites such as “Avengers” and “The Greatest Showman” until newer titles are released. 

Malco Theatres

Reopening date: 11 locations are open now, with two more opening in Tennessee for July 4 weekend. All other reopenings will be staggered throughout July.

Number of theaters: 363 screens in 35 theaters

Mask policy: Face masks aren’t required in the auditorium but must be worn in the lobby and restrooms. Thermal temperature checks will be conducted on guests at the door.

Seating: Every other row will be left empty for social distancing.

Cash or credit cards? Cash will be accepted, but credit cards are encouraged.

Tickets: Advance ticket are suggested, purchased online or on the Malco app. 

Concession: A limited menu will be offered, but food and drink won’t be delivered to your seat. Refills are available in fresh new containers. 

Coming soon: A mix of classic films (“Jaws,” “Back to the Future”), pre-COVID-19 releases (“The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man”) and new releases (“The High Note,” “Irresistible”).

Bow Tie Cinemas

Reopening date: Connecticut and Colorado locations are already open; New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia theaters will reopen next.

Number of theaters: 220 screens in 32 theaters

Mask policy: Guests must adhere to local requirements for the use of face coverings.

Seating: Auditorium capacity will be reduced 50%, and each patron will have an empty seat on either side. Showtimes will be staggered to facilitate enhanced cleaning of auditoriums between shows. 

Cash or credit cards? Cash will be accepted, but guests are encouraged to purchase tickets and concessions through the Bow Tie mobile app. 

Tickets: Online purchase online or via the app. Plexiglass partitions will be in use for those who prefer to pay at the theater.

Concessions: Popcorn, fountain drinks, candy, pretzels, grab and go nachos, hot dogs and limited kitchen items will be available from luxury theater menus. Bar service will be open. 

Coming soon: Classic movies ($5 per ticket) are showing until Hollywood resumes new releases. 

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