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What gets movie lovers out of the living room and into the theater?

Collage of photos of people at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema July 10, 2021
Saturday afternoon moviegoers at downtown L.A.'s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on July 10, clockwise from left: Tom and Terri Hodges, Lucas Lai and Meghan Singleton, Monica Hunt, Joshua Tuberville, Moira Harada and son Jackson, and Teresa Hsu.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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After more than a year of watching movies at home during the pandemic, cinephiles are thrilled to be reunited with tubs of buttery popcorn, comfy reclining chairs and of course, some epic movie magic.

Consider the scene Saturday afternoon on opening weekend for Marvel’s “Black Widow” at downtown Los Angeles’ Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The theater chain, which was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protectiondue to pandemic-driven financial strains, reopened to Los Angeles moviegoers on May 28. Even though the theater remains at limited capacity per COVID-19 guidelines and masks are still required, moviegoers for “Zola,” “Black Widow” and a special brunch screening of “Mamma Mia” were eager to share their excitement at being able to return to the kind of big-screen, communal experience that can only be found inside an actual theater.

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Brenda Williams

Brenda Williams wearing a mask stands in front of a movie poster.
Brenda Williams lives five minutes away from the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in downtown Los Angeles.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“I love movies and I have to be in the theater to see a movie. Like, to me, that’s the only way to watch movies.”

Williams lives downtown, walking distance from the Alamo, and was excited to see Marvel’s “Black Widow.”

Los Angeles’ Alamo Drafthouse Cinema will welcome moviegoers to its screens late next month for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I was dreaming when I couldn’t go to the theater, but as soon as they opened back up, I said, ‘I’m going. I’m a weekly moviegoer, I’ll be there.’”

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Tom and Terri Hodges

Tom and Terri Hodges. Sat, July 10, 2021 A masked man with his palms facing the camera and a masked woman.
Tom and Terri Hodges drove from the San Fernando Valley to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in downtown Los Angeles on to see “Black Widow.”
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Seasoned Marvel fans Tom and Terri Hodges, from the San Gabriel Valley, plan on seeing “Black Widow multiple times. When Marvel movies come out, we see them like three, four or five times,” Tom Hodges said. “We saw ‘End Game’ and ‘Infinity War’ about three times. So, we figured this way, we‘ll see [‘Black Widow’] once in the theater, then e go home and watch it again.”

“This is our first movie [after pandemic closures],” Terri Hodges said. “I guess it’s a little anxiety-giving, but we’re really excited to be back.”

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Moira and Jackson Harada

A woman and a young boy in a yellow hoodie stand in front of a movie poster.
Moira Harada and son Jackson, visiting from Fresno, caught “Black Widow” at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Moira Harada, 36, made the trip from Fresno to visit family in El Segundo with her 7-year-old son Jackson. Even though they could have watched “Black Widow” on Disney+ at home, they made their first trip to a movie theater since pandemic shutdowns began, to the Alamo Drafthouse on Saturday.

“We’re really big Marvel fans and we couldn’t figure seeing ‘Black Widow’ anywhere except for in the theaters,” Harada said. “Especially because there’s a little feminism in there. I really wanted to make the theater numbers bigger for this movie because I think it’s really important when you have a female headliner — and she got pushed back so far — to make sure that we came out and supported the movie.” Harada and her son helped give “Black Widow” an $80-million opening weekend, a post-reopening box-office record.

Between box office receipts and Disney+ premier access, Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ opened to $215 million domestically, the only film to surpass $100 million in its opening weekend since the pandemic began.

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Meghan Singleton and Lucas Lai

Two people pose in front of a mural
Lucas Lai and Meghan Singleton saw “Black Widow” at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in downtown Los Angeles.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. native Meghan Singleton came to the Alamo Drafthouse with Lucas Lai and a group of friends to see “Black Widow.” She said it was a meaningful step for her to return to the theater instead of staying home for the movie.

“Just to be together and go out, I think it’s important,” she said. “Otherwise, I’d be at home alone. It’s just that camaraderie.”

She did, however, have one big concern: the Delta variant. Transmission of the coronavirus strain has been increasing in Los Angeles County and around the country.

“With the Delta variant, it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, do we need our masks? Do we not?’”

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While the county’s metrics still remain relatively low, the rapid increases in case and positivity rates indicate that the coronavirus is spreading more widely.

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Monica Hunt and Teresa Hsu

A woman in a mask and patterned dress stands in front of a "Forty Guns" movie poster
Teresa Hsu saw “Mamma Mia” at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema with a group of friends on July 10.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Monica Hunt of Silverlake celebrated her birthday at Alamo Drafthouse with a group of friends for the Saturday brunch screening of “Mamma Mia,” the 2008 movie musical.

“I’ve been excited to come back to see a movie,” said Hunt’s friend Teresa Hsu of Los Feliz. “This is my first movie theater since like February 2020, and it’s a birthday party that drew me here.”

Of course, Hsu said that things were different. “So after, you know, just everything with the pandemic, it definitely feels weird. I’m happy to be here, but I have mixed feelings about it.”

Monica Hunt watched "Mamma Mia!" with friends for her birthday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Monica Hunt celebrated her birthday with a group of friends and a viewing of “Mamma Mia” at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in downtown Los Angeles on July 10.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Hunt, however, said she feels more at ease going back to the theater with friends versus sitting with strangers while there are still ongoing COVID-19 risks.

“It helps that they’re showing one of my favorite films,” she explained, “But also, you know, I just missed the movies. The air conditioning is something I seek out in the summertime. So I’m really thankful to be indoors and cool. I also love this theater because it’s vintage and they have a great selection of films year-round, new releases and old films. I really appreciate them.”

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Shannon Hoff and Joshua Tuberville

A woman wearing a dark mask and holding a dark purse stands in front of a movie poster.
“It feels like normalcy or starting normalcy”: Shannon Hoff watched “Zola” at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in downtown Los Angeles on July 10.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Prior to movie theaters closing, Shannon Hoff, 53, and Joshua Tuberville, 50, were season pass holders at Alamo Drafthouse.

“It feels great. It feels like normalcy or starting normalcy,” said Hoff, grinning over the return. The L.A. locals, who live near USC, came out to see the Janicza Bravo-directed indie film “Zola,” a story that began with an epic Twitter thread of sex and betrayal.

‘Zola’ director/co-writer Janicza Bravo fought for the job and worked hard to defend the voice of A’Ziah King’s original Twitter thread.

For Tuberville, being around people in movie theaters and seeing their reactions is key. He appreciates that at Alamo, there’s no texting or talking — it’s a place, he said, that “demands respect for the screen.”

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A man in a mask, hat and floral print short-sleeved shirt stands in front of a movie poster.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, says Joshua Tuberville, “demands respect for the screen.” He saw"Zola” on July 10.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

He also likes that you can get a cheeseburger, warm chocolate chip cookies and beer or cocktails delivered to your seat.

“Obviously,” he continued, “being able to eat and drink is great with the seats, and it’s a very comfortable experience. But more than that, it’s just I like knowing everyone here really wants to be here. a I think that’s true of most theaters but here it’s more of a real experience.”

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