Coronavirus Chronicles: Movie Theaters Outside New York City To Reopen at Limited Capacity

Governor Cuomo Allows Movie Theaters Outside New York City To Reopen at Limited Capacity


Movie Theater Interior
LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

empty movie theater

It’s a victory for cinema owners who have been putting pressure on the lawmaker.

Cinemas outside of New York City will be allowed reopen at limited capacity on October 23, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced.

The reopening of movie theaters comes with precautions in place as audiences will be limited to 25 percent capacity, noted as up to 50 people per showing.

Exhibitors view Saturday’s announcement as a key victory even if cinemas in New York City — the country’s second-largest moviegoing market behind Los Angeles — can’t yet open.

During Cuomo’s afternoon press conference, he noted theaters will only open in counties that are below 2 percent COVID-19 positivity on a 14-day average and have no “cluster zones.” Safety precautions also include the wearing of masks at all times except when seated and eating and drinking, and social distancing between parties. Assigned seating will be required in all theaters.

The announcement followed the most significant meeting to date between exhibition and Cuomo’s staff, which happened on Friday, according to sources. Theater owners had been frustrated for weeks by the lack of communication. That frustration reached a tipping point earlier this month when leaders in the exhibition space said Cuomo was out of touch in not letting cinemas reopen when he has allowed indoor dining, gyms and other public-facing businesses to flip on the lights.

The executive committee of the Global Cinema Federation sent letter to Cuomo imploring the lawmaker to let movie theaters reopen wherever possible.

“Without new movies to play in our cinemas, many members of the global exhibition community will be forced to close their doors again. Many of these companies will not survive,” stated the letter. “On August 19 you said, ‘movie theaters, I think, are next.’ More than a month later, there is still no clear path for movie theater reopenings in New York. This state of limbo, with no set reopening plans or dates, is what is scaring the studios away from releasing their films this year.”

The GCF thanked Cuomo and his staff for “their tireless work and leadership” throughout the COVID-19 crisis before “humbly” asking that he reconsider his decision to keep movie theaters shut. To date, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 traced to a movie theater, according to both the GCF and NATO.

Last week, frustrated exhibitors across New York used marquees to send a public message to Gov. Cuomo. The Regal E-Walk in New York City’s Times Square installed a new message on its marquee: “48 states have reopened theaters so far. Why not New York, Gov. Cuomo #ReopenOurCinemasNY.”

For now, the only live-action film left on the 2020 calendar is Wonder Woman 1984, which is set to hit theaters over Christmas, including on Dec. 25 in North America.