For some, the long wait is finally over. Almost four months after cinemas across the UK closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UK government has given them the green light to open along with other entertainment venues.
There are some cinemas taking advantage of the announcement and welcoming customers back on 4 July, with various safety measures being deployed in order to prevent the risk of COVID-19 spreading further.
This is despite the fact that the major studios are continuing to shuffle release dates, with events across the pond in the USA every bit as important as how willing cinemagoers are to return to their local picture palace on these shores.
So what can audiences expect if they do flock back to the multiplex?
Which cinemas are open?
The major cinema chains have all announced plans to open during the month of July, but the approach differs across the main companies. Cineworld — and sister chain Picturehouse — have pushed back their opening until 31 July and Vue has followed suit, targeting the same date.
Odeon, meanwhile, is opening 10 sites this weekend as part of a phased return. Those are Trafford Centre, Birmingham Broadway Plaza (Luxe), Epsom (Luxe), Norwich, Milton Keynes Stadium, Bournemouth BH2, Lee Valley (Luxe), Warrington (Luxe), Port Solent and Durham (Luxe).
Showcase has announced that nine of its sites will be available to customers. These are Bluewater, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Newham, Nottingham, Peterborough, Reading and Teesside.
The Everyman chain is also operating a phased re-opening, with six chains welcoming customers this weekend and a further five opening on 10 July. The initial half dozen are in Chelmsford, Gerrards Cross, Esher, Horsham, Barnet and Hampstead.
Indie cinemas are also operating their own re-opening schedules, with the Genesis Cinema in Bethnal Green, London one of the most notable to return this weekend. Check your local independent cinema for details on their plans reopen.
What safety measures will be used?
Different cinemas are, of course, operating their own specific safety measures to enforce social distancing guidelines and maintain a high standard of cleanliness. However, industry body the UK Cinema Association has released a 30-page document providing guidance to multiplex bosses on how to keep customers and staff safe.
Among the measures is the suggestion that customers should be asked to queue outside the venue where possible, with staff filling the role of “social distancing champions” in order to enforce one-way traffic around the lobby and into screening rooms. Protective screens, such as those now frequently seen in shops, will separate box office and concession stand staff from customers. In terms of concessions, popcorn and drinks are in, but pick n mix is out for now.
Read more: How can we fix the cinema experience?
Allocated seating is preferred, with the UKCA suggesting that most cinemas will not be able to operate at anything more than 60% capacity in order to abide by the new “one metre plus” guideline distance. Ticketing provider Admit One told the BBC that at least 10 seats would have to be blocked out around each individual audience member to maintain the recommended distance. There will be fewer screenings per day to allow for deep cleaning and screening times will be staggered to minimise footfall.
When it comes to face coverings, the guidance is that cinemas “should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE” for staff and the UKCA points out that masks are not mandatory in Britain other than on public transport. There is no information on whether audience members should wear masks, with customers allowed to make up their own minds.
Book tickets in advance where you can.
Which films can I see?
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the soaring numbers of coronavirus cases in the USA, the big Hollywood studios are largely holding on to their tentpoles for now. Both Warner Bros’ Tenet and Disney’s Mulan have been pushed into August, leaving very few new releases for UK cinemas to open with. Festival circuit drama Saint Frances is available for screening and crocodile attack movie Black Water: Abyss is previewing ahead of its full release next weekend.
But that’s not to say that there’s nothing on. Cinema First recently announced a bumper catalogue of 450 movies that will be available to multiplexes when they open from Saturday. These include big 2020 films that had their cinema run truncated, including Oscar-winner Parasite and Pixar’s Onward, as well as films that went straight to digital and never played on the big screen, including Universal’s Trolls World Tour.
Perhaps most exciting is that the catalogue also includes dozens of bona fide cinema classics that many will not have had the chance to see on the silver screen before. The Wizard of Oz will play in some cinemas, as well as Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Alfred Hitchcock’s exceptional thriller Vertigo. There’s also a raft of Christopher Nolan films available to play, including his Batman trilogy, leading in to the eventual arrival of Tenet.
What’s coming up soon?
With release dates shifting faster than the tides, any release calendar information should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, as things stand, the first two blockbusters in cinemas are due to be the aforementioned Tenet on 12 August and Mulan on 24 August. Russell Crowe-starring road rage thriller Unhinged, meanwhile, is due on 31 July along with the Eva Green space drama Proxima.
Read more: Cinema releases still due in 2020
On the smaller end of the spectrum, there’s the very sweet baking drama Love Sarah — which features Celia Imrie and a cameo from Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown — coming on 10 July. Vertigo Releasing, meanwhile, has announced that supernatural Blumhouse horror outing The Vigil will arrive from 17 July.