Movie theaters are reopening in many U.S. states starting this weekend. They face an uphill battle attracting customers: Sitting in a room full of strangers for hours on end is among the most risky behaviors imaginable during the coronavirus pandemic. To help patrons feel safer, theaters are taking extra precautions, including admitting fewer customers to allow for social distancing, requiring masks, and improving their ventilation.
But they’re also betting on a tried and true incentive: discounts. In some cases, very big ones. Here’s what’s on offer if you’re eager to return to movieland.
What discounts are available at movie theaters this weekend?
The most aggressive discount is almost certainly at AMC Theaters. Starting Thursday, Aug. 20, the chain is celebrating reopening by offering “Movies in 2020 at 1920 prices,” which means tickets are just 15 cents. However, the movies are older, too: opening night’s showings include Jaws (1975), Ghostbusters (1984), Grease (1978), and Black Panther (2018). After Thursday night, AMC will continue showing a selection of older films for $5.
AMC has several other discounts, too. The most interesting is probably a month of the chain’s subscription service, AMC A-List, for $5. The service lets you see three movies per week, and normally runs about $20 per month, depending on where you are. Until Oct. 31, AMC is also offering discounts on concessions, including $5 popcorn and fountain drinks.
Regal Cinemas, the second-largest theater chain in America, is doing something similar. Regal theaters will reopen starting Aug. 21, with a changing lineup of what it calls “Flashback Movies” for $5 per showing ($3 for kids). For the first week, the lineup includes Inception (2010), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Force Awakens (2015), and Black Panther as well—just the sort of technicolor effects spectaculars that make going back to the theater sound almost worth it. You can find the rest of Regal’s “Flashback” lineups here.
The Cinemark chain has been a bit more aggressive than competitors, with a number of theaters across the U.S. already reopened, and more coming throughout August. And like competitors, they’re offering $5 tickets for classic popcorn movies such as Jurassic Park (1993) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), along with discounts at the concession stand including $5 popcorn.
Smaller chains and independent theaters will also be reopening, but discounts and other incentives are scarcer. Alamo Drafthouse, which pioneered the dine-in movie theater concept, will reopen some theaters on Friday, Aug. 21, including those in its home state of Texas. While Alamo hasn’t announced broad discounts, it is offering free screenings of the new Bill & Ted Face the Music on Aug. 26 with a food purchase. That’s one day before the movie opens nationally in theaters and on demand.
Where are movie theaters reopening?
Some states still aren’t allowing movie theaters to reopen. At the time of writing, those include California, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and Michigan.
Even in states that are allowing movie theaters to reopen, though, not all of them will be welcoming guests back this weekend. AMC, for instance, is only reopening around 100 of its 600 nationwide theaters. So be sure to check local listings.
That limited reopening will in part help the big chains gauge demand before committing resources to full-scale reopening. Nearly half of theaters around the world have reopened, with considerable success, and surveys of Americans have found willingness to return with strong safety precautions in place.
Cheaper popcorn could help nudge willing customers back to the silver screen. Theater operators will certainly be on the edge of their seat this weekend as they wait to find out: AMC has narrowly avoided bankruptcy during the pandemic, and the National Association of Theater Owners is warning that many theaters are at risk of closing permanently if they can’t reopen successfully.