California Allows Movie Theaters to Reopen on June 12 With Restrictions

VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images
A closed AMC theater in Burbank on May 12, 2020.

For the first two weeks, cinemas are expected to operate at 25 percent capacity, sources say.

Movie theaters in California can begin reopening as early as June 12 with strict social distancing measures in place for at least the first two weeks, according to a new industry guidance document issued by the state of California on Monday. A host of other safety measures are also recommended.

Anxious theater owners — and Hollywood studios — are being given the go ahead to flip on the lights later this week by California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office and the Department of Public Health. This means that Warner Bros. may still be able to launch Christopher Nolan's Tenet in cinemas on July 17 as originally planned.

Cinemas have been closed across the country since March 20 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state is requiring that theaters limit capacity to 25 percent, or no more than 100 people per auditorium, whichever is less, sources say. If all goes well, this rule is expected to relax after about two weeks, giving exhibitors enough time to ramp up before Tenet arrives.

The Los Angeles area is the largest moviegoing market in the country, so is integral for Tenet and other Hollywood films opening post-pandemic, a batch of titles that also includes Unhinged (July 1), Mulan (July 24), The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run (Aug. 7) and Wonder Woman 1984 (Aug. 14).

It's unclear when New York City theaters will be allowed to reopen. New York is the country's second-largest moviegoing market. Theaters are expected to play catalogue titles pending the arrival of new product. 

In addition to reducing capacity to 25 percent, California is recommending a host of other safety measures, including: limiting the flow of patrons into a theater so as to ensure that patrons are six feet apart; blocking off seats; requiring face masks when entering and exiting a theater, and at the concession stand; consider using disposable or washable seat covers; prop open doors at peak periods of traffic; consider limiting the the number of customers using the bathroom at one time and reconfigure parking lots.