PHOENIX — Update (Aug. 25): As Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal counties are expected to move into the "moderate" phase of reopening on Thursday -- a move that would allow movie theaters, fitness centers, and some bars to reopen at reduced capacity and strict guidelines -- Harkins said it would reopen all of its theaters on Friday, Aug. 28. Alamo Drafthouse said it would reopen its Tempe theater on Aug. 31, followed by its Chandler and Gilbert locations on Sept. 3. AMC Theatres has not yet announced reopening plans for Arizona. Here is a link to our updated story.
As Hollywood's film studios begin to give the OKs to release their latest movies, theaters in Arizona are preparing for their eventual reopenings.
AMC Theatres and Harkins Theatres -- Arizona's hometown theater chain -- have both submitted applications to the Arizona Department of Health Services seeking approval to reopen.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a Texas-based dine-in movie theater chain, also applied, and was approved, to reopen its three Arizona movie theater locations in Chandler, Gilbert, and Tempe. Alamo has not announced reopening plans, however, its planned safety guidelines are posted to its website.
ABC15 has reached out to representatives for Alamo, but did not immediately hear back. An automatic recording when you call its Phoenix-area locations said the theaters remain temporarily closed and directs people to the website for updates.
In May, the franchisee of Alamo's Arizona locations filed for bankruptcy protection, citing the economic struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harkins filed to reopen most of its movie theaters in the Valley, as well as in Casa Grande and Flagstaff.
On Friday morning, Harkins confirmed in a news release that it would open three of its movie theaters -- Flagstaff, Prescott Valley, and Sedona -- on August 28, and hoped to announce the openings of more of its theater locations soon. It will also open locations in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas, according to its website.
Opening weekend releases include Marvel’s The New Mutants, Unhinged, and a re-release of Inception, celebrating that film's 10th anniversary. It will also have early screenings of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi movie, Tenet, beginning on Aug. 31. Tickets for those screenings will be available Friday, Aug. 21.
Harkins said it would also bring back some movies that had their theatrical releases cut short because of the pandemic.
“There is no question that this has been the most difficult time in my 50 plus years in the business. I am so excited and so appreciative of our incredible team and tremendously loyal guests that have continued to support us through this challenging time,” said Owner Dan Harkins in a prepared statement. “I will be there opening night and cannot wait to welcome everyone back to the movies."
When its theaters reopen, Harkins said it would implement the following guidelines:
- Required face coverings for Harkins employees and guests, except while eating or drinking in seats. Face masks will be available at the theatre for those who do not have one. Those who do not wear a mask, will be asked to return when government mandates have relaxed.
- Added cleaning staff and further enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures throughout the theatre and all touchpoints
- Daily health checks for team members
- Social distancing required throughout the entire theatre environment
- Reserved seating in all theatres
- Reduced and socially distant seating between every pair of seats
- Staggered showtimes to reduce the number of guests in the lobby
- Safety shields at all guest interaction points
- Harkins Loyalty Cups will be refilled utilizing a new paper cup (all other refills on paper drink and popcorn containers will be discontinued until further notice)
- Increased fresh air, hospital-grade MERV 13 air filters, and HEPA filtered vacuums will be used in all auditoriums
While none of Harkins' theatres in the Phoenix metro are reopening yet, the theater chain did open a pop-up drive-in on the weekend at its location in Chandler. You can view current showtimes and pricing, here.
AMC Theatres began opening some of its U.S. movie theaters on Thursday, Aug, 20. However, its locations in Arizona currently remain closed until presumably, it receives approval to reopen.
"This theatre is temporarily closed in accordance with local, state and federal guidelines. It will re-open when those guidelines allow. Please continue to check back here for updates," a message reads on the website of AMC's Arizona locations. ABC15 reached out to a representative for AMC on Thursday and did not receive a response.
AMC's and Alamo Drafthouse's safety protocols are similar to those at Harkins': masks required unless eating and drinking in the theater, reduced capacity and socially-distanced seating, cashless payment, and increased cleaning and hand sanitizer stations.
Movie theaters, as well as bars, gyms, and water parks, were closed by an executive order issued by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in June, when the state saw an increase in positive COVID-19 cases. That executive order was extended indefinitely and would be reviewed every two weeks. It remains in effect.
In August, as the result of a lawsuit filed by a local fitness chain, the state released coronavirus benchmarks that would have to be met in order for businesses like movie theaters and bars to reopen, often at reduced capacity. However, over the last week or so, ADHS has been approving gyms and movie theaters to reopen, saying those businesses have submitted plans that meet -- or go above and beyond -- the state's requirements.
Arizona's COVID-19 cases and positivity rates have been trending down over the last few weeks and with that, some counties have begun moving from "substantial" community spread into the "moderate" range, therefore meeting some of the state-issued benchmarks.
As of Thursday, more than 1,000 applications were filed with ADHS. Of that, more than 30 businesses were approved -- a mix of bars, gyms, and small movie theaters -- and 200 applications were denied. Businesses that were denied can appeal. View the list of businesses approved and denied.