Movie theaters in New York City reopen Friday after nearly a year of cobwebs, restoring film titles to Manhattan marquees that had previously read messages like “Wear a mask” and “We’ll be back soon.”
Holly Stillman was emotional shortly after noon at the Angelika Film Center on Houston Street after seeing Lee Isaac Chung’s tender family drama “Minari” for the first time in New York. “My mask is soaked,” she said.
She was similarly astounded to be back in a movie theater. Despite Stillman’s fears that the COVID-19 protocols would make the experience too limited, she found it to be euphoric.
Stillman said, “It was just you and the movie screen.” “Even though I don’t eat popcorn, it was great to smell it as soon as I walked into the theater.”
Only about half of movie theaters are open nationally, but the number of reopenings is increasing. Many other theaters reopened last summer to coincide with the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” but the attempt at a revival failed. Throughout the five boroughs, theaters remained closed. One of the world’s most important film centers remained dark for almost a year.
The resumption of moviegoing in New York is a critical first step in the rebirth of a theatrical industry that has been harmed by the pandemic.
“It’s a symbolic moment,” said Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics in New York, which released “The Father” and “The Truffle Hunters” in Manhattan theaters on Friday. “It implies that the theatrical environment has a chance to reactivate.”
The long-awaited day had almost religious significance for some moviegoers who consider the big screen to be the only place to see a film.
JM Vargas, who had tickets to “Minari,” “The Last Dragon,” and “Chaos Walking” on Friday, compared going to the movies to going to church. “It’s been a year since I went to church.”
The city’s cinemas are currently only running at 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 people per auditorium. Masks are needed, cinema seats are blocked out, and air filters have been upgraded, as in other areas.
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that cinemas could reopen under those conditions, several theaters were caught off guard. The Film Forum, the Alamo Drafthouse, the Metrograph, and Regal Cinemas are among the city’s most well-known theaters, all of which plan to open in the coming weeks. Some people needed more time to get ready. The Cinema Village in Manhattan had burst a pipe two weeks before, flooding the lobby after remaining idle all winter — one more bit of bad luck in a grueling year.
“This was the worst horror film I’ve ever seen. Nicolas Nicolaou, owner of the Cinema Village and theaters in Queens and New York, said, “I don’t think any Hollywood director could have dreamed it up.” “We had no idea we’d be completely shut down for so long.”
One of the biggest movie markets, along with Los Angeles (where theaters are already closed), is New York. It’s a crucial epicenter of word-of-mouth for smaller films. It’s a necessary evil for blockbusters. Hollywood studios have moved most of their larger productions before more theaters open, or they’ve steered films to streaming platforms, without New York or Los Angeles open.
According to John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, “the New York opening is very important to the theater industry in New York, in the country, and around the world.” “We in the movie theater industry depend on films that are seen all over the country and the world. We keep seeing movies exit the theatrical release schedule to be rescheduled for later dates due to a lack of markets. The most prominent of these markets is New York.”
The future for theaters has been brightening for the first time in a long time, thanks to President Biden’s prediction that every adult will be vaccinated by the end of May. Even though it was streaming on HBO Max, “Tom & Jerry” outperformed at the box office last weekend, grossing $14.1 million. Despite Universal Pictures’ decision to switch the “Fast & Furious” sequel “F9” from late May to late June, other films have been pushed forward, reversing the trend of postponements.
Sony Pictures has announced that “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” will be released in May. “A Quiet Place II,” from Paramount Pictures, has taken over the May 28 slot previously held by “F9.” The release date for The Walt Disney Company’s “Black Widow” is still set for May 7. Southern California theaters are set to reopen in the coming weeks, adding to the excitement.
Fithian explained, “It’s not like we’re going to go back to record-breaking business this summer.” “We’re going to crawl, then walk, and then run,” says the narrator. It will take until 2022 for sustained profitability to return to the company.”
But, if not crowded, New York’s movie theater lobbies were buzzing again on Friday. The box office windows were decorated with sold-out signs for the evening. Even a smidgeon of celebrity was resurrected. Liam Neeson was scheduled to appear at the AMC in Lincoln Square to promote “The Marksman.”
Masked moviegoers flocked to the IFC Center in Greenwich Village to catch up on their favorite films, even if they were watching. The IFC is hosting a four-week “What’d We Miss?” sequence, which includes films like “First Cow” and “MLK/FBI,” which the theater was unable to screen in the previous year.
The IFC Center’s senior vice president, John Vanco, said, “We’re used to being present for the birth of these movies for New York viewers as they come into the public domain.” He admitted that the conditions were not ideal. They were, however, preferable to nothing. “I don’t think 25 percent isn’t good enough,” Vanco said. “It’s better than 0%,” says the author.
Tykon Herman settled in for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the IFC and had tickets for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” at 5 p.m.
“I’m one of the few people who doesn’t have Netflix,” Herman joked. “I’m not a traditionalist.” Since the first time I saw ‘E.T.,’ I’ve been a huge fan of the theater. It won’t be the same, but sitting in front of this computer gives me the impression that things will quickly return to normal.”