Reel excitement: New Yorkers return to movie theaters

New York (AFP) –


Movie enthusiast Cindy B was among the first in the door at the AMC Empire 25 off Times Square Friday as New York City's cinemas reopened a year after they were abruptly closed by coronavirus.

"Oh my God, I'm so excited to be back. I'm not working so I gotta have something to do!" the woman in her sixties told AFP, before buying a ticket for "Raya and the Last Dragon."

The Big Apple's movie theaters resumed operations for the first time since March 17 last year, when officials ordered them shut as Covid-19 began ravaging America's commercial capital.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last month that cinemas would be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity -- or with no more than 50 people per screen -- from March 5.

Cindy arrived at 10 am, 30 minutes before the doors opened and a full hour before her film started to ensure she didn't miss out.

"I'm a movie fanatic. I go once a week, so I went crazy over the last year," she said, declining to give her full name.

The film buff needn't have worried though, with only a few cinemagoers slowly trickling into the popular theater that during normal times would be teeming with tourists.

"I thought there would be a long line. But I guess a lot of people have started working already," she mused.

Mask-wearing and social distancing is mandatory inside the cinemas. AMC has installed special air filters and is disinfecting each auditorium between screenings.

Cindy said she wasn't worried about virus transmission.

"I've got two masks on. I've got wipes, I've got hand sanitizer. I've got everything!" she said.

Roy Evans was another who waited in the cold for the AMC Empire 25's doors to open, itching for his fix of the big-screen experience.

"I've became a couch potato over the past year, staying at home, social distancing and watching TV," the 68-year-old told AFP.

"It's nice to get off that chair and actually go to a theater," added Evans, who planned to see "Judas and the Black Messiah."

- Liam Neeson -

Thomas Levesque, 28, agreed.

"Netflix is cool and all but it doesn't beat the movie atmosphere and my TV is not what you would call a huge flat screen TV," he said.

The partial reopening of one of America's biggest movie-going markets, at a time when Los Angeles cinemas remain closed, will provide some relief to a battered industry.

Actor Liam Neeson was due to thank cinemagoers at a Manhattan multiplex later, telling the Hollywood Reporter the reopening was "one for the diary."

AMC, which needed nearly $1 billion of emergency funding to fend off bankruptcy, is reopening all of its 13 New York City locations.

However, owners of smaller, independent cinemas say it doesn't make economic sense to rush to reopen.

"At 25 percent (capacity), it's a challenge," said Andrew Elgart, who plans to stagger the opening of his three cinemas in Brooklyn and Queens later this month.

The reopening comes as officials gradually ease restrictions in New York City, where the virus has killed more than 29,000 people.

Madison Square Garden welcomed back NBA and NHL fans last week while Broadway theaters and music halls are expected to reopen at limited capacity on April 2.

"This is definitely a step towards getting back to normality," said Cindy, before taking her seat.