2020 has been a strange and, oftentimes, depressing year. Many industries were hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic, but arguably none more so than the entertainment industry. From movie theater chains shuttering their doors, to the near declaration of bankruptcy by AMC, to multiple highly anticipated movies fleeing theaters (some of which fled for VOD services), that’s only looking at things from the perspective of film.
AMC and Cinemark might be barely holding on, but Broadway is in far, far more dire straights. Theater, television, video games: nearly all forms of entertainment have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why in a desperate bid to keep some theater chains open -at least for the foreseeable future-, movie theaters have opted to try and entice customers back in by allowing them to rent a movie theater screen for a private screening of a pre-selected movie.
Honestly, it sounds like a solid idea from a safety perspective. One of the biggest concerns I feel whenever someone brings up the idea of going to a theater is sharing the same space with a group of strangers I know nothing about. I can’t trust them to keep a mask on, or even wear one, for the approximately two hour time period that most films are. But by making it private with people I can trust…? Now you have my attention.
Now we’ve said it before here at Flixist in relation to the pandemic and seeing movies in theaters, and it bears repeating, but no movie is worth dying over. Period. You should only go to a movie theater when you feel comfortable doing so and you can make it as safe as possible. With a recent surge in cases, that may end up being all the more unlikely. I understand that for someone who has been harping for months about having everything delayed out of 2020 because of safety concerns, it’s almost hypocritical to now talk about going back to theaters to watch movies. I won’t try and argue against it. It can be viewed that way.
But after a certain point, and after going in to work in person over the last several months, I think some of us do need a release of stress or tension. Movies, for me, are that release. It’s not a particularly good excuse I’m aware, but it at least helps me feel decompress. If you are seriously considering going to a movie theater after not doing so for almost a full year, and if you are aware of the inherent safety risks in doing so, then here’s a helpful guide to rent an entire movie theater in a cheap, and safe, way.
Plus it’ll make you feel smart for gaming the system, which is a win for everyone!
First of all, what spurred this idea of wanting to rent out a movie theater in the first place? Well, as dumb as it may be, it was a birthday celebration. After not seeing friends for months on end, I made an offer to a small group of people that we could conceivably rent a movie theater and watch something on the big screen like “the good ole’ days.” People could accept and go, or they could politely decline. I made it clear that there would be no ill will towards anyone if they said no. In total, of the 15 or so people I asked, seven decided to take the plunge with me.
When we began planning this in October, we knew the date almost immediately: November 6. It was a Friday, it would be after work, and most of us didn’t have to worry about going to our jobs the next day. However, we had to deal with some issues thanks to AMC/Cinemarks’ online services. Both sites only rent out theaters for the current month, so until November 1st came around, we could only rent theaters for October.
This presented us with a problem. The films available at any given time are pre-selected from a very shortlist. For October, both companies mostly had Halloween staples to watch, such as Hocus Pocus, or modern releases like Tenet. Even then, the modern releases would cost us $150 to rent the theater instead of the advertised $100.
The options were so limited that even much talked about returning movies, like the Alita: Battle Angel re-release weren’t available as a choice. We couldn’t see any of the movies for November, plus most screens required at least three-five days of notice before buying one. For our date pre-selected date, it would be cutting things very close to the wire and hoping that AMC or Cinemark would actually get back to us in time.
For what it’s worth, AMC had a much better variety of movies to screen, with well over a dozen movies across several different genres. At Cinemark, the options were far more limited.
But then an idea hit. A horrible, nasty, perfect idea.
While the movie theater chains have been dragging their feet on posting times and availability for theater rentals, they’re still posting times for normal releases. What stood out to us was the line of classic movies returning to theaters -and the too good to pass up offer on them-. All classic movie tickets were $5. Between a variety of much more interesting and universal titles like Toy Story, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Goldfinger, we were all more passionate about watching those movies than anything curated to us on a private screen.
Still, we wanted that private screen. We all had agreed to go see a movie if we were the only ones there, after all, certain that we didn’t have to run into any strangers with their germs and possibly questionable outlooks on public health. Sure, AMC and Cinemark still had their policies in place, but that wasn’t good enough for us. We wanted certainty. So we did the one thing that anyone would do in that situation: we manipulated the system.
Whenever you buy a seat online at any major movie theater chain now, the website will automatically block out the two seats to your immediate right and left in order to comply with social distancing requirements. No matter where you want to sit, 2-4 seats will be blocked out accordingly for your one seat. So logically, by buying seats in specific locations throughout the theater, we could conceivably rent out an entire theater just by buying seats like we were playing a puzzle game, reserving seats in such a way that social distancing requirements prevented others from entering.
So we looked at Cinemark (since those theaters are usually much smaller than the average AMC) and plotted accordingly. We agreed that we wanted to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail, both so we could have a good laugh and to say we actually saw it in a theater. The theater, itself, had a capacity of around 55 seats, including handicapped seats and their designated areas. By buying ten tickets at $5 each and spreading them throughout the theater, we were able to fill up the entire screen with our seats while also complying with the COVID-19 restrictions.
The only seats we left available were the handicapped seats (we figured no one with a prior medical condition would even show up) and two seats in the very front row. If anyone was going to come in and buy tickets to see Monty Phyton and the Holy Grail, they had to suffer by watching it in the very front row, neck craned to the heavens watching Frenchmen berate them (myself and the movie) for ruining our plan.
And with that, we went to Cinemark. Being the paranoid fellow that I am, I was concerned that if we went to the ticket seller at the kiosk, they may be able to do simple math and learn that a group of seven people does not equal ten people and may cause a scene. So I went in earlier, printed out the tickets, and gave them to each of my crew as they were arriving. Each went in on their own, and by the time the movie started, we had all entered and claimed our seats. We still abided by social distancing guidelines and kept our masks on at all times, but we had done it. We rented an entire Cinemark theater for $50 and had an absolute blast doing so.
Like King Arthur and his men, we set out on an absurd, and frankly quite stupid, plan that ended up succeeding and giving us an experience that we won’t soon forget. The best part: we only spent $50.