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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Opinion: How COVID-19 has affected the movie theater experience

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Due to capacity and safety regulations, movie theaters have had to shut down or drastically alter their operations.


With winter break here, everyone is thinking about what they will do with their free time. Holiday parties, New Year’s Eve and going out to eat with friends are all things we would normally be looking forward to. Or, if you’re like me, going to the movie theater would also be on your list. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put a stop to a lot of our plans. Considering how long the pandemic has gone on and how our social lives have drastically changed, what will happen to movie theaters in the future?

There are a lot of questions and uncertainties during this time, and the reopening of movie theaters may not seem like a big deal to some people. To others, going to the movie theater is an experience that brings movie watching to the next level, and it’s hard not to miss it.

Movie theaters have suffered through a similar experience that many small businesses have during the pandemic. Due to capacity and safety regulations, movie theaters have had to shut down or drastically alter their operations. During the third quarter, three movie theater chains reported more than $1 billion in losses. By September 30, AMC had seen a 91% drop in revenue while Cinemark had seen a 96% drop. Both are among the largest cinema chains in the industry.

The charming camaraderie among movie-watchers in the theater is something that is now lost due to these conditions. Watching Netflix movies on my laptop doesn’t compare to the feeling of stifling a laugh when someone makes a loud joke during a horrible horror movie.

Movie theaters are quickly becoming a subject of nostalgia. Now that movies are available at your fingertips and the pandemic is ongoing, the overpriced tickets and popcorn no longer seem necessary. The pandemic could perhaps be the end of movie theaters as we once knew them. Aside from the economic factors of what it will take for movie theaters to come back from the pandemic, there are evolving social factors to consider as well.

The pandemic has caused a lot of social norms to change as we adapt to life with COVID-19. Being crammed between two people in seats that are constantly being sat in by multiple people may not seem as appealing now as it did before the pandemic. People are now more aware of the dangers of contact and disease transmission. Tight space, soda machines, public bathrooms are all suddenly risky environments. Even I, an avid theatergoer, can say that I would rather watch the movie from the comfort of my own home.

Even if conditions surrounding the pandemic were to change, would people immediately jump at the opportunity to return to movie theaters right away? I think the concept is escaping people’s minds as the fear of crowded spaces like movie theaters continues to grow. Despite many people saying how eager they are for life to return to normal, there will be a lot of leftover fear once the pandemic ends that will prevent some businesses from making a full return.

An interesting advantage the pandemic has provided to the movie watching scene is bringing relevance back to drive-in movie theaters. Over the summer, drive-in movies were a common weekend activity, whereas before, it was just something you saw in “The Outsiders” and other movies about the 1960s. The experience of watching a movie on the big screen with friends from the safety of your car has become a much more practical and entertaining idea. Instead of worrying about the extinction of drive-in theaters, we will witness their comeback.

Although some may think the drive-in doesn’t compare to the classic movie theater experience, it’s a great alternative. The neon lights, the retro ambiance and the fact that you can bring your own food are all aspects of the drive-in that to me, make it a great substitute while allowing the feeling of the movie theater to stay alive. Through drive-in movies, we can maintain that nostalgic feeling we all love and prevent movie theaters from fading into obscurity during the pandemic.

Hopefully, the circumstances surrounding movie theaters will change. With the vaccine on the rise, perhaps movie theaters will be able to make a comeback, and we can all enjoy whatever Marvel has in store on the big screen. Until then, we have drive-in theaters and Netflix to fulfill our movie watching desires.

Lily Williams is a columnist for The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review’s editorial staff. She may be reached at lillianw@udel.edu.

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