Movie night: Moviegoers miss unique, nostalgic movie theater experience during closures

Theaters will remain closed until Illinois enters phase four of its plan to reopen

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Harper Theater

The historic harper theater is still open for carryout concession orders.

Nicky Edwards-Levin, Editor-In-Chief

Whether for a night out with friends, a first date or simply an excuse to scarf down overpriced popcorn, movie theaters have long been a hub for teenage activities. But with millions of possible movie-goers house-ridden, many cinemas may get added to the long list of coronavirus casualties. 

During the stay-at-home order, movie theaters — like all nonessential business — have had to close their doors. Students at U-High have missed them for a variety of reasons, from the quality of the picture, to the social connections.

Junior Andrada Nicolae enjoys the physical experience of watching a movie on the big screen, but her TV at home is just not the same.

“It just doesn’t compare to watching something on your phone or computer,” Andrada said. “These big action movies, or high-budget movies — all the effects and sounds, they’re really meant to be watched on a big screen.”

For Julian Mondragon, junior, movie theaters present more nostalgia.

“Going to the movie theater was kind of a big family outing, so like the smell of popcorn, or just the general ambience of the movies kind of brings me back,” Julian said.

But according to Derek Long, professor of media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, even when the pandemic passes and the projectors start running, movie theaters will still face serious challenges.

“Movie theaters have always relied on people’s disposable income, which will obviously be in short supply for a while,” Dr. Long said to the University of Illinois News Bureau. “Even when people feel safe in crowds again, casual moviegoers are likely to save their money for the more directly social experiences of bars and restaurants.”

Even when people feel safe in crowds again, casual moviegoers are likely to save their money for the more directly social experiences of bars and restaurants.”

— Derek Long

Under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to reopen Illinois, movie theaters would not be allowed to open until Phase 4, which will not happen until at least June 26. Gov. Pritzker’s plan also limits attendance to 50 people per auditorium. 

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) of Illinois has proposed a different plan, which would reopen theaters as long as theaters meet certain criteria. Under NATO of Illinois’ alternative plan, attendance would be limited to 50% of the theater capacity, and audience members must maintain a six-foot distance, using empty seats and rows as necessary.

With movie theaters closed for now, it may be weeks before people can experience the surround sound of a cinema or the struggle of covertly smuggling in snacks. But once the theaters come back, U-High students will be eager to return.