Some central Ohio theaters reopen, much to delight of moviegoers

Eric Lagatta
elagatta@dispatch.com
Moviegoers enter the AMC Lennox Town Center 24, 777 Kinnear Road in Columbus, when it reopened Aug. 20 for the first time since the early days of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in March.

When Lisa Courts learned that AMC Theatres would be reopening several of its central Ohio cinemas Aug. 20, the nursing-home aide made sure she had the day off to catch a flick.

She headed to AMC Lennox Town Center 24, 777 Kinnear Road in Columbus, on her own to see an afternoon showing of "Jumanji: The Next Level," which was released in December.

More than five months ago, this would be a regular outing for Courts, 49, who was accustomed to seeing about four movies a month. But days after she saw "The Invisible Man" with her 17-year-old son in March, movie theaters joined the legion of businesses forced to shut down amid the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

"I love the movies," said Courts, a Gahanna resident. "I go all the time, so I'm happy to be back."

In central Ohio, Lennox 24, Dublin Village 18 and Easton Town Center 30 were part of a wave of more than 100 AMC cinemas that reopened Aug. 20. To mark the occasion and its centennial anniversary, AMC -- the world's largest movie-theater chain -- sold tickets for the 1920s price of 15 cents.

Audiences didn't have any new releases to see, but central Ohio moviegoers still flocked to sold-out showings of older films, including "Black Panther" (2018) and "Sonic the Hedgehog" (released in February), as well as such classics as "Back to the Future" (1985) and "Grease" (1978).

"We are thrilled to once again open our doors to American moviegoers who are looking for an opportunity to get out of their houses and apartments and escape into the magic of the movies," AMC Theatres CEO and President Adam Aron said in a written statement.

On the afternoon of Aug. 20, young couples, families with children and senior citizens steadily entered the theater for matinee showings at Lennox.

Joe Price and Kari Arrowood, a husband and wife from southeast Columbus, couldn't pass up the opportunity to bring their three children -- ages 8, 10 and 12 -- to Lennox for a double feature of "Star Wars: Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Ghostbusters" (1984.)

" 'Empire Strikes Back' and 'Ghostbusters' are really sentimental movies to me, so to take my kids to see them on a big screen is something else," Price, 33, said.

For Arrowood, 32, the movie outing was an opportunity to get the family out of the house for a few hours.

"It's been a long time since we've taken the kids to do anything," she said.

AMC is not the first theater chain to have recently implemented phased-in openings.

Cinemark's Polaris 18 and XD began screening movies Aug. 14, with its Carriage Place and StoneRidge Plaza locations following suit Aug. 20.

The chain has reduced "welcome-back" pricing -- $5 for adults and $3 for children and senior citizens -- and is offering private screenings for up to 20 guests starting at $99.

Marcus Theatres has opened two-thirds of its 91 theaters in three phases through Aug. 28, including the Crosswoods and Pickerington cinemas in central Ohio.

Indoor theater screenings -- considered more of a risk than outdoor activities -- have resumed even as coronavirus cases remain prevalent across the country.

In response, AMC is requiring everyone to wear masks under its "Safe & Clean" initiative -- face coverings are available to purchase at theaters for $1 -- and theater capacity is capped at 30%. The chain also upgraded ventilation systems.

Cinemark and Marcus are implementing similar health-and-safety measures, including reduced seating capacity, staggered showtimes and the requirement that customers and employees wear masks.

Guests at the Lennox who spoke to The Columbus Dispatch on Aug. 20 all said they felt comfortable with the precautions.

Now that theater chains are reopening in phases, new feature films are trickling in, as well.

"Unhinged," starring Russell Crowe, hit the big screen Aug. 21, and other big films, such as Disney's "The New Mutants," will open in theaters within the next few weeks, after AMC opens another 300 locations, including its Columbus 10 and Grove City 14 theaters.

AMC expects to open approximately two-thirds of its more than 600 U.S. theater locations in time for the Thursday, Sept. 3, release of Christopher Nolan's thriller, "Tenet."

Many of the upcoming releases already are on the radar of Justin Schnurbusch, who traveled to the Lennox from his home in Circleville on Aug. 20 to see "Sonic the Hedgehog."

"I'm pretty excited," the 33-year-old said. "It's just not really the same watching a movie at home -- there are certain movies where on the big screen it's better."

elagatta@dispatch.com

@EricLagatta

Lisa Courts of Gahanna walks past old movie posters to enter the AMC Lennox Town Center 24, 777 Kinnear Road in Columbus, when it reopened Aug. 20 for the first time since the early days of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in March. She said she made sure she had the day off work to see an afternoon showing of "Jumanji: The Next Level."