Cinemas/Movie Theaters: Safe Reopen Survey Data Brief

As the country pivots toward reopening, Irwin Seating asked its customers how they planned to approach the return to business.  Topics ranged from high-level hopes and concerns about their business to specific information about cleaning and disinfecting and ensuring guest safety.

The survey was fielded during the month of May, in the early phases of reopening.  25 professionals engaged in the design, build, renovation and management of Cinemas/Movie Theaters participated.  They represented a mix of organizational roles, almost all located in the US, and are part of a larger study conducted in which 87 professionals across four sectors (sports/arenas, cinemas/movie theaters, educational facilities and performing arts centers) have participated as of 5/28/2020. 

We are sharing these results with you so you can see how your colleagues are navigating the reopening process. If you would like to add your voice to the discussion, please click on this link to participate in the survey. 

Cinemas expect to get back to business quickly, with full capacity expected by next spring.


This is markedly more optimistic than we see for other venues and may be influenced by Cinema’s scheduling flexibility to manage crowds.

  • The vast majority (85%) expect to be open by the end of July; all expect to be open by the end of the summer.
  • 60% expect to open at 25% capacity, while an additional 32% expect to open at 50%.
  • 40% expect to operate at full capacity as early as the end of this year, with another 36% by Summer 2021.
  • However, nearly one-quarter are not certain about when they might open at full capacity.

Chart_Q5_200602 (1)

Current “essential businesses” are setting the example for what guests will expect to see as cinemas reopen. 


Nearly all (80% or more) will provide directional markers on the floor to indicate social distancing and traffic flow, reduce co-mingling in common areas, and limit ticketing and concession lines.

  • All participants said they will provide increased disinfecting of commonly touched areas.
  • Many will provide modified concessions (68%), touchless ticketing (64%), and plastic guards at point of sale (60%).
  • Nearly all (94%) will provide hand sanitizer for guests; 44% will provide disinfecting wipes.
  • Tissues (28%) and facemasks for customers (20%) round out the list.

Chart_Q9_200602

Disinfecting procedures will be performed multiple times throughout the day, creating a moderate scheduling impacts to allow time for increased cleanings. 

One-third of cinemas expect to clean throughout the day, with more (40%) cleaning after and fewer (24%) cleaning before each showing.

  • Diluted bleach (30%), disinfecting wipes (26%), and household cleaners (22%) were the most commonly mentioned cleaning solutions.
  • 74% expect to apply with a spray bottle.
  • 71% expect to wipe off residue after each application.
  • These new cleaning measures will take time, but only 16% expect serious impacts on their schedule; most (72%) expect some impact.

Chart_Q11_200602

Cinemas will rely heavily on ticket sales to manage social distancing.

With many theaters offering reserved seating, 58% say they can sell tickets to only certain seats.

  • Another 46% expect to cordon off specific seats.
  • 50% will expect ushers to enforce social distancing.

Chart_Q15_200602

Although they have planned outreach to communicate their cleaning procedures, Cinemas will rely heavily on obvious in-theater practices to reassure guests that the environment is safe.

This suggests an expectation that “early movers” will spread the word in their communities.

  • Almost all will use their website (96%) or social media (92%).
  • A few cited pre-show communications.
  • When prompted about “what else” they would do, 3 of the 6 responding indicated staff wearing PPE.

Chart_Q17_200602

Main concerns with reopening revolve around patron safety and confidence in returning, but financial concerns are not far behind.

Cinemas seem to express a bit more concern than other venues about keeping staff safe, reflecting their high staff/guest interaction.  Financial stresses are evident in mentions of:

  • Liability concerns
  • Inability to seat to full capacity
  • Cost of materials and labor to comply with guidances and restore consumer confidence.

Cinema owners are eager, and anticipate that the public is eager, for the smell of popcorn and big-screen distractions. 

Still, a few display a slight strain of pessimism.

  • Most cited relief about simply “getting back to business”.
  • One mentioned a product shortage to compete with streamed content.

At least 3 participants indicated that they had nothing to be optimistic about.

To see more results from the survey, click the link and use the password SafeReopen.

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