After three long months, England’s cinemas are about to take down the shutters, fire up the projectors and start popping some serious corn. Pending the government’s green light, cinemas can open their doors again in early July (later in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), welcoming back moviegoers for the first time since late March. But what will going to the movies be like at a time of two-metre social distancing and enhanced hygiene? Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, walks us through the experience.
1. Face masks and temperature checks won’t be required
‘The desire is to make cinemas safe but not to make them feel like you're walking onto Emergency Ward 10,’ says Clapp. As per Public Health England’s current guidelines, that means no airport-style temperature checks on the way in and no requirement to wear a face mask once inside (unless you want to). ‘All the advice from health experts is that it isn't hugely beneficial, and it would also be taking that equipment away from people who do need it,’ says Clapp. ‘Safety is paramount but we don't want to over-medicalise the experience – it’s supposed to be relaxing.’
2. Expect a bit of extra queuing on the way in
A little patience may be required on the way into the cinema. ‘It is possible you will be asked to queue outside the cinema in the way you're currently asked to queue outside the supermarket,’ says Clapp. Antibacterial gel stations will be a fixture in cinema lobbies, too.
3. ...And the way out
Showtimes will be staggered to allow for a deep, post-movie clean of the auditorium – including the seats – and to make sure different audiences don’t bump into each other coming out of their films. ‘Some areas will be made one-way, so customers aren't coming past each other,’ says Clapp, ‘and you'll probably see dedicated staff to monitor social distancing, especially around pinch points in the cinema.’ Fire exits may be used when the credits roll.
4. You can sit with your friends – as long as they’re in your household
You’ll be encouraged to buy tickets online and will be able to sit with your household group or family members (if you still want to). ‘The space around your seats will be maintained to ensure social distancing,’ says Clapp. That awkward ritual of apologising your way down an aisle to your seat will continue – to a degree. ‘People will still be allowed to walk past you on your row, but the key focus will be on people being seated socially distanced from each other.’
5. It may feel quiet
With the two-metre social distancing, there will be three empty seats and a row between each moviegoer or household group. Clapp estimates this will leave some auditoriums running at as low as 25 percent of capacity. On the upside, that means less chance of someone being on their phone during the movie.
6. You’ll still be able to buy food and drinks
With perspex screens to protect staff and contactless payment encouraged, snacks and drinks are still firmly on the menu. But, adds Clapp: ‘Cinemas will only be allowed to sell food and drink for consumption in auditoriums.’ In other words, cafés and restaurants in cinemas will remain closed for the time being.
7. Pick ’n’ mix is out
Anyone partial to a bag of sugary snacks will be disappointed. ‘People digging their hands in [to pick 'n' mix containers] ain't gonna happen,’ says Clapp. On the upside, popcorn will still be readily available.
8. Loo breaks will be a little different
If you’ve forgotten what communal toilets are like, the new-look cinema bathroom set-up may not ring too many bells. Some cubicles, basins and urinals will be in use; others won’t. As with all aspects of the new-look cinema-going experience, the priority will be on safety and socially distancing.
9. Your local cinema may stay shut for the summer
As flagged by a recent survey, some independent cinemas are not equipped, practically or financially, to implement social distancing measures. Expect them to stay closed throughout July and August. ‘There are concerns from smaller cinemas,’ says Clapp, ‘over social distancing, whether the film slate will be attractive to their audiences, and expecting unpaid volunteers to work.’
10. You’ll be able to watch two new blockbusters – and some old favourites
Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi ‘Tenet’ is July’s biggest drawcard – and a big factor in cinemas reopening. But before it lands on July 31, you’ll be able to catch Eva Green astronaut drama ‘Proxima’ (July 10), big-budget Disney adventure ‘Mulan’, Italian crime biopic ‘The Traitor’ (July 24), and Brit drama ‘Make Up’ (July 31). In a unique initiative, 450 old favourites are returning to the big screen, allowing cinemas to draw audiences back with movies like ‘The Matrix’, ‘His Girl Friday’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. ‘When cinemas in Hong Kong reopened, Warner Bros. made the three 'Dark Knight' films available again as a package,’ says Clapp. ‘Hopefully, bringing back classic and genre films will entice people back in[to cinemas].’
Looking to support your local cinema through this difficult period? Buy a membership at one of London’s independent cinemas.