Most Houston-area movie theaters do not plan to open May 1 despite Gov. Abbott’s authorization

Movie theaters, such as AMC at Willowbrook, have temporarily closed due to the coronavirus. (Danica Smithwick/Community Impact Newspaper)
Movie theaters, such as AMC at Willowbrook, have temporarily closed due to the coronavirus. (Danica Smithwick/Community Impact Newspaper)

Movie theaters, such as AMC at Willowbrook, have temporarily closed due to the coronavirus. (Danica Smithwick/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday, April 27, that movie theaters across the state would be permitted to operate with up to 25% occupancy starting Friday, May 1. This initiative is part of a larger effort to gradually reopen businesses across the state following closings due to the coronavirus.

“We will be measured and cautious. Only with your help and with all of these measures in place can we begin to open businesses with careful adherence to health protocols,” Gov. Abbott said in his report to open Texas released Monday. “By coming together, we can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and we can get Texas back to work.”

The minimum health standard protocols required of theaters opening May 1 include the following.

  • Contactless payment and remote ticketing options are encouraged.

  • Keep at least two empty seats or 6 feet of separation between parties in a row.

  • Alternate rows between customers, leaving every other row empty.

  • Disinfect seats and other high-touch points between screenings.

  • Provide single-use, individually wrapped condiments and flatware upon request.

However, only a few Houston-area theaters are planning to reopen so soon.

Following the governor’s order April 27, Alamo Drafthouse issued a statement saying its Texas theaters would not be opening this weekend to allow more time to prepare for a safe opening.

“Opening safely is a very complex project that involves countless new procedures and equipment, all of which require extensive training,” the statement read. “This is something we cannot and will not do casually or quickly.”

Cinemark is keeping all of its locations closed until mid-summer depending on the availability of studio content and health regulations in place at the time, according to officials. In an April 28 email, officials told Community Impact Newspaper top studio releases planned for the spring and early summer have been rescheduled, with the next major film release being “Tenet,” scheduled for July 17.

“It is important to note that the theatrical exhibition’s return to ‘normalcy’ may span multiple months, driven by staggered theater openings due to government limits, reduced operating hours, lingering social distancing and a ramp up of consumer comfort with public gatherings,” Cinemark officials said.

The Showboat Drive In, located in Hockley, does plan to reopen May 1 with limited capacity. Officials said concessions will not be available, customers must purchase tickets online in advance, and individuals will not be allowed to leave their vehicles except to use the restroom.

Other theaters, such as Star Cinema Grill, are planning to slowly reopen locations, . Vice President of Development Jason Ostrow said in an email the company plans to open one Houston-area location May 8 at the earliest and said more details would be available May 1.

Studio Movie Grill founder and CEO Brian Schultz said in a statement he is are hopeful to reopen soon, although it would not be May 1.

“We're eager to safely open our locations as quickly as possible across the country in service of our stakeholders; our team, guests, communities, vendors and investors,” he said. “We believe Gov. Abbott's message is a promising early sign that our country is overcoming this pandemic. Films satisfy our desire for entertainment and community as we come back together.”

Regal, AMC Theatres and Premiere Cinemas all closed their theaters in compliance with local and federal orders in mid-March and have yet to announce reopening dates. Promotions such as Magnolia Selects and AMC Theatres On Demand allow customers to stream films from home during this time.

Landmark’s River Oaks Theatre announced in a March 16 statement the theater would temporarily close out of caution for employees and customers. Officials have not yet announced a reopening date and did not immediately respond to inquiries.

Danica Smithwick - Ben Thompson