By mid-March, I had already been to the movies 20 times in 2020. The first four films were in Los Angeles, the fifth in Chicago, and the next 15 near where I live in Upstate NY. Then COVID hit. Theaters shut down, and I ended-up watching more than 200 new releases in my house during the rest of the calendar year.
I was able to briefly step outside my front door in late August, visiting a Drive-In for the first showing of “The New Mutants” and crossing state lines into Vermont to see the first showing of “TENET”. I was one of six people in attendance. We all were spread out in the auditorium and wore masks for the two and a half hours, plus three trailers (WB’s “Dune”, “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Judas and the Black Messiah”).
Aside from the those two films, I was able to screen every other major new theatrical release at home… all the way into late Spring 2021. Theaters were back open across the country (including in my neck of the woods), but I always wondered in the back of my mind when I would actually need to go back. What would be the first movie that a studio said: “We’re not providing a link; you’re going to have to see this in a theater”?
The answer came shortly after I received my second COVID-19 shot: “In the Heights”. A free screening of the WB musical on Mother’s Day (May 9th) was the first film I had seen at an indoor theater since “TENET” on Aug. 31 — and the first indoor theater film in NY State since “Bloodshot” on March 12, 2020. It had been nearly 14 months, and it felt great to be back.
Of course, it wasn’t the same. Still wearing masks. Plus, in May, theater capacity was limited, so every few rows were empty. Only about a quarter to a third of the auditorium was filled, which was considered “Sold Out”. Next time I visited a cinema, it was two weeks later for a screening of “A Quiet Place: Part II”. Again, seating was spaced-out, this time for every other row. People who were used to talking during movies at home realized they probably should be quiet (and especially since it’s a “Quiet Place” movie).
The “every other week” pattern continued, next for a screening of “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”. People could now sit in every row, but there was still spacing in between seats. Two weeks later: “F9: The Fast Saga”. Two weeks after that: a private screening of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” so I could interview director Malcolm D. Lee. And two weeks after that: “Snake Eyes”. At that showing, it was me and a party of four.
A showing of “Stillwater” wrapped-up the month of July. Heard an older woman in the back say to the person she was with that it was her first film in a theater in a couple years. Went to “The Suicide Squad” the next Thursday, and then a screening of “Respect” just a few days later. Someone in the middle section of the second or third row coughed loudly several times during the movie. People were verbally upset.
Went to see Hugh Jackman’s “Reminiscence” on opening day, Aug. 20. Was one of only three people in the theater. That was a clear sign it wasn’t going to do well. Supported area Drive-Ins for my next two movies by seeing “Free Guy” at one and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” at another. They were *very* well-attended.
Back to indoor cinemas for “The Card Counter” and “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” in September, ending the month with a film festival screening of “Violet”. October was my busiest theater month of 2021 yet, with seven movies, including an opening day showing of “The Many Saints of Newark” and a packed IMAX screening of “No Time to Die”. (Sitting next to strangers for the first time in a while was a bit unusual.) Then there was a private screening of “Dune”, followed by a private opening day showing of “Last Night in Soho” (because no one else was there) and film festival screenings of “C’mon C’mon”, “The French Dispatch” and “Spencer”.
November topped October’s theater count by one, with eight films, largely thanks to private screenings set-up by studios for awards season contenders “The Power of the Dog”, “Parallel Mothers” and “Don’t Look Up”. Also went to regular, far from crowded showings of “Eternals” and “King Richard”. “Belfast” showing featured an old guy telling rowdy kids in the back that if they wanted to keep talking they needed to exit the auditorium, which they did. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” screening saw a father and son dress-up in costumes. And there were a number of younger, female Lady Gaga fans at the “House of Gucci” showing.
In December: a private screening of “Nightmare Alley”, a public screening of “A Journal for Jordan” (about 25 people), the first showing of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (about 40 people — yes, I avoided being in a packed house)… and finally… “The Matrix Resurrections”. An early morning showing was more crowded than I expected. It should do well.
So if you’re keeping score at home, that’s 34 movies at theaters in 2021, up from 22 in 2020. Glad it went up, and glad the theaters are doing well. As one manager told me about how her multiplex did for “Spider-Man”’s opening weekend: “It felt like 2019 again!”