UK cinemas have been closed for more than three months now – but film fans in England were treated to some good news earlier this week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for them to reopen from 4th July, as part of a relaxation of lockdown measures (there has been no confirmation yet regarding the devolved nations).
Understandably some cinephiles will still have concerns about rushing back to the pictures, with the coronavirus pandemic still a very real threat, and other filmgoers will have questions about what the reopening will look like, and what films will be showing.
We’ve done our best to answer all those questions here, including what all the big chains have had to say…
What industry wide guidelines have been issued?
On 25th June, a government-endorsed 29-page document was issued by the industry, titled ‘Cinemas – keeping workers and customers safe during Covid-19′.
The document covers a range of measures, including social distancing and hygiene, and was put together by trade body the UK Cinema Association – with input from the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the BFI Screen Sector Task Force and the Independent Cinema Office.
Some of the recommended measures included in the guidelines are:
The use of hand sanitiser before entry into cinemas
The use of outside areas for queuing
Protective screens between staff and customers
One way traffic systems to be put in place foyers
No self-service confectionary, e.g. pick and mix. but popcorn CAN be served
Allocated seating with “social distancing champions” appointed to monitor
A commitment to “managing occupancy levels” (no specific capacity limit has been outlined)
Restaurants and cafes within cinemas should remain closed
Reduced number of screenings
Frequent cleaning throughout the day
Face coverings are NOT mandatory
Cinemas are discouraged from screening films that will see encourage “communal dancing” or see customers “raise their voices” e.g. singalong screenings or showings of cult films
What have individual cinemas chains said?
In addition to the industry wide guidelines, the country’s leading cinemas chains have also issued their own safety measures for customers and staff.
What have Cineworld said?
In a statement announcing that the chain planned to open its cinemas in England from 10th July 2020, Cineworld said “we know how much you’ve been missing the cinema and we are thrilled to be back!”
However the chain later pushed back the re-opening date “in line with recent adjustments to the schedule of upcoming movie releases”.
Among the measures they have outlined is an increased commitment to E-ticketing, updating the chains “seating maps” to allow social distanced to be practised, all ticket machines to be upgraded to allow contactless payments up to £45, specific COVID-19 training and PPE provided for all staff, and trained staff on hand to offer assistance to customers.
This is in addition to staggered film times, plastic tills at the screen, additional cleaning and hand sanitizer available at all cinemas for staff and customers.
Odeon has announced that it will be reopening from 4th July, and said in a statement on its website, “We’ve made lots of changes to bring you a safer cinema experience.
“From social distancing in our auditoriums and foyers to more frequent and more thorough cleaning routines, we’ve made sure the thrill of the big screen is as safe as possible for you and our teams.”
In a list of measures titled “Staying safe together” the chain further outlined their new measures, which include offering a range of pre-packaged food and drinks, no longer accepting cash payments, all ticket checks will be conducted visually only (no one will rip the tickets) and training for all staff.
There will also be staggered film times, stations offering sanitising gels and wipes and a guarantee of unoccupied seats between customers.
We’re still awaiting a full list of procedures to be put in place by Vue, but they have announced that they plan to reopen from 10th July, with CEO Tim Richards claiming that he was still waiting on “specific advice from government.”
In a statement, Richards said, “After a record 2019, we know how important the big screen experience is to people, and now more so than ever.
“We are confident we can look after our staff and our customers with enhanced protocols. By the time we reopen in the U.K., our methods will have been responsibly and robustly deployed in the real world.
“We have learned how to do this from our operations in Taiwan where we never closed and have successfully operated through pandemics such as SARS in the past; and from our sites in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland and Lithuania, where we have recently and successfully reopened to the public.”
What have Showcase said?
In a press release, Showcase said it would reopen its cinemas in England from 10th July, adding that “he re-opening of Showcase Cinemas sites comes with new enhanced health and safety measures for both customers and staff.”
The measures include the use of a new anti-viral fogging machine that eliminates airborne viruses on contact – set to be used on every seat between showings – as well as a new air purifying system being installed into every screen.
Guests are encouraged to wear masks, will be able to order food and drink in advance and collect from a designated pick up section, and can self-scan their tickets to enter screenings.
There is also reduced capacity, staggered film times and multiple hand sanitising stations in each cinema, while perspex shields will be installed at all till points.
Showcase Cinemas, UK General Manager Mark Barlow said: “We are all really excited about welcoming film fans back to Showcase Cinemas.
“We’ve been busy preparing for our re-opening by making all our sites as Showcase Safe as possible for the comfort of both staff and guests, which has always been our top priority.
“We encourage all our guests to use the hand sanitiser available, regularly wash their hands, wear a face covering and practice social distancing when inside the cinema.”
What have Curzon said?
Curzon will be reopening its cinemas in a staggered fashion, with Curzon Canterbury opening from 17th July and Curzon Mayfair from 24th July, with “most if not all” of the chains other venus opening from 31st July.
The company says that, “the partial reopening is to ensure we have all the safeguarding measures in place for the wellbeing of our customers and staff.”
CEO Philip Knatchbull said in a statement on the Curzon website, “We will be taking comprehensive health and safety precautions and our cinema staff have undergone the necessary training.
“The safety measures in place will include clear signage, sanitation stations, allocated seating, social distancing plans, contactless payments, staggered film times and enhanced cleaning. We will be on hand to advise and help customers feel comfortable and secure.
“We look forward to welcoming you all back with open (but socially distanced) arms.”
He added, “Tickets will go on sale shortly and will be announced through our normal communication channels such as newsletters and social media.”
What about independent cinemas?
A recent survey conducted by the Independent Cinema Office revealed that a majority of independent cinemas did not expect to open before September, with 72% saying that Autumn was the earliest likely opening date.
What films will be showing in re-opened cinemas?
Many of the films that were due to have been released in the past months since the outset of the virus will finally get their day in the spotlight in the first months after the reopening – including Mulan (24th July) and A Quiet Place 2 (4th September).
One of the most exciting new releases will be Christopher Nolan’s mysterious new thriller Tenet, although that film has now been pushed back for a second time to 12th August.
Credit: Warner Bros
Meanwhile some chains have announced plans to show reruns of classic films – for example Odeon promises screenings of The Empire Strikes Back alongside more recent fare such as the BAFTA winning 1917 and Vue plans to show Inception to mark the tenth anniversary of its release.
Cinemas have also been given access to 450 classic films through an initiative led by the UK’s leading distributors, titled Relaunching Cinema: Content for Recovery. The collection is split into 25 different categories, which include All-Time Classics, Award Winners, BAME Voices, LGBTIQ+ Cinema and Women In Film – with well-known franchise movies and recent hits also included.