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Cinemark adds fresh air, cashless ticketing and classic movies for reopening

Shown is the entrance of a Cinemark movie theater in the Playa Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Cinemark, one of the nation’s largest cinema operators, will start reopening its doors Friday, adding a host of new measures that it hopes will counter any risk of a COVID-19 outbreak and reassure patrons.

The Plano, Texas-based exhibitor said in a statement that it would stagger the reopening of its theaters across the country in four phases, starting with three locations in Dallas, and the remaining phases to take place between July 3 and July 17.

Los Angeles has yet to set a date for reopening theaters, but Cinemark Chief Executive Mark Zoradi said in an interview that he expects it will be in mid-July, before the debut of Walt Disney’s “Mulan” on July 24. As Hollywood studios have delayed the release of their biggest films, the chain said it will be showing older movies such as “Goonies” and “Jurassic Park” for $5 with discounts on popcorn and soda.

The reopening is another part of Hollywood’s return to business, as film and television production got the green light to resume in California this month. The forced closure of theaters across the globe caused tens of thousands of employees to lose their jobs, 17,500 from Cinemark alone.

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Cinemark will be inviting some of those workers back as the first major cinema chain to reopen its theaters in the wake of the coronavirus health crisis, which hit the exhibition world hard.

With safety protocols set forth by Hollywood unions and the state of California, the film and TV industry is hoping to get back to work.

“We are very, very encouraged and excited about it,” Zoradi said.

The company has spent the last two months with several working groups to develop the reopening strategy, allocating millions for market research, safety protocols and training aimed at bringing people back to theaters.

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“Literally from every touch-point when you walk into this theater, it’s going to be a clean and healthy environment and we know through consumer research how important that is in encouraging people to come back,” Zoradi said.

Cinemark employees will undergo training to deal with the new health risks and will wear masks and gloves while working, in addition to completing a wellness check before each shift. To ensure social distancing, theater capacity will be capped so the seats next to each booking group are kept free.

Customers will have to wear masks where states or counties mandate it, otherwise where there are no such rules, the chain said guests are “strongly encouraged to wear face masks.”

Auditoriums will be disinfected daily and highly trafficked areas such as drink stands will be sanitized every 30 minutes, and there will be safety monitors to enforce the new rules. Other measures include increasing the fresh air intake to improve air quality, limiting the use of cash and relying on digital ticketing.

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While theatergoers will have to wait until July for summer’s big new releases, such as “Unhinged” featuring Russell Crowe on July 10, Cinemark is hoping to tempt film fans into reruns of Christopher Nolan’s drama “Inception” with new footage from his eagerly awaited action feature “Tenet.”

The world and nation’s biggest chain, Leawood, Kan.-based AMC Theatres, has not yet set a date for reopening and has said it did not plan to open its 1,000 theaters until Hollywood studios start releasing big movies again. Earlier this month, it warned of losses that could reach up to $2.4 billion in the first quarter and flagged that it might not be able to continue as a “going concern.”

Regal, the nation’s second largest circuit, is opening nationwide beginning July 10.

While L.A. County health officials have allowed drive-in theaters to reopen, they have not given the go-ahead for movie theaters.

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Nonetheless, Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood plans to show two movies on Friday — “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “Babyteeth” — in a private screening using only 14 of 60 seats, owner Christian Meoli said in an interview.

“People want to see movies,” he said, adding that he had implemented local guidelines on safe reopening, including investing in air purifiers.


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