When is the last time you sat inside a darkened movie theater and watched the latest release on the big screen? Along with thousands of other things, the Covid-19 pandemic put a huge dent in movie nights (or matinees) at cinemas nationwide. But things may be looking up.
Take, for example, the news that the Lakewood Ranch Cinemas (operated by the Sarasota Film Society) will be screening movies once more beginning with a “soft” reopening March 31 and the official opening date of Friday, April 2. Those movie theaters on Rodeo Drive in Lakewood Ranch had closed when the pandemic hit, then reopened, then closed again a few months ago when audiences weren’t turning out for the films they were showing—like other cinemas, a mix of new and old products. Meanwhile, Sarasota’s SFS venue, downtown’s Burns Court Cinema, is still working on plans to open its doors to lovers of independent and foreign films again soon.
Nationwide, AMC Theatres plans to have 99 percent of its sites open again by the end of March. The AMC theaters at Sarasota Square Mall are now open Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday; the AMC 20 in Manatee County has been open for some time, albeit with reduced showings (late afternoons and evenings only) and fewer auditoriums open. CineBistro Siesta Key on South Tamiami Trail and the Venice Galleria Stadium are likewise open with reduced times and films available. No word yet as to whether downtown Sarasota’s Regal Cinemas will reopen any time soon. (In one encouraging bit of news, Touchstar Cinemas acquired the old Parkway Cinema on Lockwood Ridge Road and University Parkway in January and plans to reopen it sometime in the future.)
I actually ventured out for the first time in a year to a movie at the AMC 20 in Bradenton about six weeks ago, where I had what amounted to a private screening of News of the World, starring Tom Hanks. There seemed to be more employees on hand than filmgoers that day, with three or four masked staffers at the concessions and several more turning up promptly after the closing credits to do their theater cleaning thing. (It was Super Bowl Sunday, which may account in part for the extremely low turnout.)
Since then, I’ve been back for screenings of Judas and the Black Messiah (perhaps six other audience members), the Oscar-nominated Nomadland (eight or more) and Land, starring Robin Wright (again, just a handful of fellow watchers, but that’s a movie without much PR behind it). Sure, sitting in an almost empty theater, wearing a mask, felt a little strange at first. I still can’t imagine returning at a point when I might be seated next to a total stranger; for now, social distancing remains in place, and certainly no one was sitting within six feet of me.
But the popcorn still tasted the same, the seats are still comfortable, and the big screen is a nice change from all the small-screen streaming I’ve been doing at home. It will be interesting (and for the film industry, crucial) to see if and when more people start to flock back to theaters as vaccinations continue to ramp up and viewers feel safer. Coming up at the end of the month at Lakewood Ranch: Godzilla vs. Kong and Nobody, starring Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk as a family man turned lethal, along with several other movies already in release, like Minari and Raya and the Last Dragon. Are you ready to hit the theaters again?