The recent announcement that all Americans can begin getting vaccinated on April 1 sheds some light and hope that things can maybe start getting back to "normal" soon. However, states have had trouble– some more, some less– in the logistics of actually getting people vaccinated. And given the recent financial problems for theater chains, including the bankruptcy for my beloved Alamo Drafthouse, it seems like maybe we can actually solve both problems simultaneously. The answer is potentially simple: movies, and specifically movie theaters.
Here are the problems:
- Many states have poor distribution systems that have made it incredibly hard to find a vaccine appointment.
- We are about to go from trying to vaccinate 20% of the population to the entire population.
- Signup systems are hard to navigate and can't respond to the huge demand placed on them (especially if we further overwhelm them by quintupling who will use them).
- Movie theaters remain largely empty, even when open because very few people want to risk getting sick so they can go see relatively paltry theater offerings (though everyone should really want to go see Raya and the Last Dragon, hands down the best movie of 2021)
- We are DEPRESSED after a year of this pandemic and need some things to make us happy. (Movies!)
A piece of hope came as I started to see friends posting on social media about getting their shots. And one posted a selfie in what was very obviously a movie theater. WHAT? Talking to our Editor in Chief Kaitlyn, and can confirm, a movie theater chain in Utah is being used at a few of its locations as a vaccine distribution site.
This entirely makes sense: what are large public places used to accommodating large numbers of people? The movies. What places are currently mostly empty? The movies. You could also include things like sporting arenas, convention centers, and concert venues in this, but the great thing about movie theaters is they're relatively ubiquitous. Suburbs, exurbs, rural areas, urban centers– most of them have movie theaters.
You know who else is used to HUGE demand from people who all want to buy (Star Wars, Avengers) tickets all at once and can easily map them to theater capacity and timeslots? Again– movie theaters! The amount of time I spent refreshing the CVS and other local websites trying to find a vaccine location to get myself a slot made me really wish for the ease of when I bought Endgame tickets.
I don't know how reasonable this is to ask the giant chains like AMC and Cinemark to get involved, but it seems like a smart move on everyone's part. I can also imagine a world where the studios get involved too. Imagine getting your vaccination appointment, and as you sit in your assigned theater seat, waiting for the person to come and poke you, you watch a reel of coming attractions on the big screen. Did you see that In the Heights trailer? How about bringing back Black Widow? Make people remember why they love going to the movies.
And then maybe the theaters run a nice promotion: get your final vaccine dose, and here's a free matinee ticket and a coupon to buy a large popcorn and drink for a discount price. And then have the studios bring out the big guns: yes, Avatar is back. So are Infinity War and Endgame — as a double feature! Bring back every single Star Wars. Extend the IMAX Lord of the Rings run. Heck, bring back TENET since most people missed that. And keep Raya in the theaters as long as possible because people need to bring their kids to see it. And finally, and perhaps most importantly: announce that Hamilton sing-a-longs will happen the week of July 4th– as long as it's safe to have people singing indoors.
And that brings me to this: the studios have to do some of the work to help us get over this virus by pegging release dates to vaccination rates and infection rates. "Yes, we'll release Black Widow in any market where infection rates are below x% and vaccination is above y%." "You only get the Hamilton / In the Heights sing-a-longs if you're over 90% vaccinated in a 20-mile radius." Give us achievable goals based on science to get us back to the movies.
We need to save movie theaters. We need to get back to them. But we'll never be able to without defeating this virus. But I truly believe movie theaters can be both part of the solution and the reward. Let's go to the movies.