Pop Pandemic: The rebirth of the movie theater

A black-and-white photo of empty rows at a movie theater.
With movie theaters re-opening, it is imperative movie goers save theaters and the industry by attending screenings while being covid conscious. (Photo courtesy of Roey Ahram via Flickr.)

When the coronavirus pandemic shut the world down in March 2020, movie theaters were, somewhat logically, one of the first places to go. It’s hard to grasp now, in our heightened state of cleanliness and health paranoia, that we used to sit in movie theaters with strangers, in sticky seats, eating popcorn with liquid butter and some sort of cheese powder that came out of a communal shaker.

With the temporary (or permanent) closing of movie theaters nationwide, we lost an entertainment staple. For me, growing up and to this day, going to the movies was an experience. The excitement of filling a purse with snacks, buying a giant slushie and picking the perfect seat is something I didn’t realize I would miss as much as I have.

More importantly, however, the closing of movie theaters engendered a sort of fear within those dreaming of one day working in the film industry, either in front of the camera or behind the scenes. Many of USC’s own School of Cinematic Arts students found themselves nervous about the possibility of dwindling job prospects in the field.

As a result of movie theaters in Los Angeles being closed, I have relied on streaming platforms and microwave popcorn to fill the void. However, it’s nowhere near the same, which is why I found myself texting everyone I know that our movie theaters are reopening.

On March 15, L.A. County officials announced that the county will be moving from the purple tier to the red tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s blueprint for reopening. For those of you who have no idea what colors have to do with California’s coronavirus strategy, here’s a SparkNotes version of Newsom’s blueprint: There are four “tiers” of California’s counties — purple, red, orange and yellow — based on the rate of coronavirus spread within each county. L.A. has been in the purple tier (the highest, most widespread risk level) since the blueprint was introduced. However, with the rollout of vaccines in L.A., we’ve officially moved down a tier, which allows more non-essential businesses to reopen their indoor sections.

And that, of course, includes our beloved movie theaters.

Though at limited capacity — the county has mandated 25% capacity within movie theaters — our favorite pastime is being reborn. AMC opened the majority of its L.A. movie theaters on Friday, and the rest of the movie theaters in the county are following suit.

The reopening of L.A.’s movie theaters means more than a place to meet up with friends or eat awful popcorn. For those working in the entertainment field as well as those pursuing careers in movies, the rebirth of movie theaters solidifies the brick-and-mortar film industry, which has been hanging on by a thread during its past year of temporary closure.

The entertainment industry as a whole is impacted by movie theaters’ reopening. Being able to sit in a movie theater with strangers means that, maybe, the spread of the coronavirus is diminishing. While that’s an amazing thing to hear regardless of whether you’re interested in the entertainment industry — I think I can probably speak for most of the world in saying we’re ready for the pandemic to be over — it’s also reassuring for the longevity of the live performance industry. Movie theaters reopening means that, some time in the near future, other in-person events can start opening up, and the industry can start to go back to normal, or, rather, find a new normal.

I encourage you to mask up and head over to your local movie theater. Be safe, of course, and be coronavirus-conscious, but going to the movies is something we can all do to save the film industry from the coronavirus pandemic.  

Taylor Perry is a freshman writing about COVID-19’s effect on USC’s artists. Her column “Pop Pandemic” runs every other Friday.