Ontario loosens gathering restrictions on movie theatres

Cineplex and Landmark will reopen operations in Ontario starting today after the Ministry of Health approved an exception for indoor public gatherings in movie theatres.

Movie theatres in Ontario will begin to open starting today (July 31) thanks to a ruling from the Ministry of Health to loosen indoor gathering restrictions on theatres and auditoriums.

Under the new guidelines, gatherings are limited to 50 people per theatre or auditorium – as long as individuals can remain two metres apart for physical distancing – a change from the province’s restriction of 50 people per facility as part of Stage 3 of the province’s multi-phased reopening strategy. The regional rollout of Stage 3 began on July 17 and extended to Toronto and Peel today (July 31). The only region still not in Stage 3 as of press time is Windsor-Essex County.

Additional public health and safety measures for theatres include staggered film start and end times, monitored exits to ensure patrons are leaving in a row-by-row manner and removing self-serve food options. The change came following calls from film exhibitors that it would be impossible to reopen operations with only 50 people allowed per facility.

Cineplex has announced it will open 25 theatres today, with plans to open its remaining 43 theatres across a number of weeks in a phased approach. Landmark Cinemas has also announced it will open its 10 Ontario theatres.

Both theatre chains will sell tickets at a reduced cost of $5, with $2.99 tickets on Tuesdays, and Cineplex will provide reserve seating for all of its auditoriums. Locations will play a mix of older blockbusters such as Jurassic Park and Jaws and films released before the pandemic, such as Jumanji: The Next Level, The Invisible Man and Bloodshot.

Cineplex began to reopen theatres in Canada in June, starting with six theatres in Alberta on June 26, and extended it to select theatres in B.C., Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on July 3.

It’s unclear whether the change to the guidelines will impact the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival. A representative from TIFF told Playback Daily the festival is reviewing the changes and the TIFF Bell Lightbox “will remain closed to the public for the time being.”

Cineplex laid off more than 130 full-time staff this month, including senior executive retirements and departures, citing that the pandemic and the cancellation of the Cineworld deal has had a “significant impact on the company.” Cineworld issued a notice on June 12 that the U.K. chain would call off its proposed $2.8-billion acquisition of Cineplex, claiming it had made “certain breaches” within the deal. The Canadian company countered with a lawsuit seeking more than $2.18 billion in damages, stating that the cancellation was simply “buyer’s remorse.”

The overall state of theatrical releases is more uncertain than ever in the wake of the pandemic. The total U.S. box office gross stands at US$1.79 billion as of today, a 73.9% decrease in a year-to-date comparison to 2019, according to the website Box Office Mojo.

Universal Studios, which broke the traditional 90-day theatrical window to release its film Trolls: World Tour on VOD in April, struck a historic deal with U.S. chain AMC Theatres to reduce the window to 17 days for a premium VOD release – sparking an opportunity for other major film studios to make a similar deal. As of press time, no other deals to reduce theatrical windows have been announced.

Image courtesy of Cineplex