Movies during the Pandemic: No Refills, Half-Empty Theaters, and Fewer Snacks

AMC Theater in Springfield, IL (Photographs courtesy of Jacob)

The coronavirus pandemic has stripped us of many things. The fact that this article is going out online, rather than in print, is proof. Vacations have slipped through the cracks, coffee with friends has fallen by the wayside and we have all had to learn what a privilege it is just to go out to dinner. This is said without discussing the much more serious consequences that so many suffer. But one of the simple pleasures in life has returned, albeit in a reduced form – the local movie theaters have reopened.

            Both AMC 12 and AMC 8 in Springfield have reopened, though with a number of restrictions imposed to comply with social distancing regulations and minimize the potential for exposure. The first changes which anyone will likely notice are outside the theater. When purchasing seats online, the social distancing requirements that limit the theaters to 40 percent capacity make themselves immediately apparent. When a seat is selected, the seats next to it are made unavailable, an enjoyable change for those of us that appreciate our personal space. The downside is that it creates serious complications if a friend decides to join after you have bought the ticket and you want to sit together. One of the only changes that will hopefully continue after the current crisis is the option to order ahead online for concessions, a feature previously unavailable at Springfield theaters. For anyone with the AMC app, after you have selected your seat you are given the option to select the snacks you want, which you then pick up at the theater. The tradeoff for this is a reduced menu. The loss of the pretzel bites is a most grievous wound, indeed.

            Aside from these changes, moviegoers in the pandemic face the same array of necessary inconveniences to which we have all grown accustomed. Masks are always required while in the building except while eating or drinking, and they must be either of the cloth or surgical type. My neck gaiter was found insufficient, and I was required to buy one at the ticket stand for one dollar. The ever-present, and unfortunately often-ignored, floor stickers remind everyone what constitutes a six-foot distance. Cash is not accepted and online pre-purchasing is preferred. Hand sanitizer dispensers and disinfectant wipes are scattered liberally throughout the lobby for anyone who wishes to make use of them. Perhaps worst of all for those of us who like to make sure we get our money’s worth out of the overpriced large sodas and popcorn is the rule of no refills.

            The most important question in the face of all this is whether or not it is worth it to go see a movie right now. That is a more complicated question than it might seem. Aside from the above inconveniences, and even with all of these policies implemented to mitigate risk, the fact remains that you are going out and sitting in a large room with a sizable group of people. There is bound to be an increased risk of exposure. This is something that everyone should keep in mind, particularly those who might be vulnerable to COVID-19. Less serious, but still worth considering, is the inescapable fact that customers are getting less for their money without refills or the full menu. But for those of us who, like me, have an inexplicable love of the smell of fresh popcorn and the glow of the silver screen, I would say that it is worth it.

AMC Theater in Springfield, IL (Photographs courtesy of Jacob Tebbe)