I went to the movies during a pandemic. Here’s what it was like.


After three months of darkness, a single movie theater flickered back to life Friday in Tampa Bay.

Other theater chains plan to follow. Regal Cinemas reopens theaters July 10. AMC begins on July 15. But history will remember that screens lit up first at Studio Movie Grill in Seminole, kicking things off with a $1 matinee of Space Jam.

For the uncultured, Space Jam is a 1996 medical drama starring Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues as NBA stars whose basketball skills are drained by a mysterious ailment – possibly a virus – ultimately found to be caused by aliens.

It’s a timely film. In one scene, the commissioner cancels NBA games due to “germs.” (Conspiracy theorists, take note: Space Jam was, according to Wikipedia, released on VHS on March 11, 1997. The current NBA season was suspended on March 11, 2020!)

There’s also a plot with Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny in 1995. [AP]

I volunteered to go to the first movie to play indoors on a big screen in Tampa Bay since the coronavirus shutdown because, to me, going to a movie theater is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

There’s the feeling that because you’ve left the house you are “doing something,” even if that something is still sitting sedentary, just in a larger room with a larger screen.

There’s the way it forces you to put your phone away and be fully present (or at least it should, you heathens). There’s all the potential for the future: Every single new trailer makes you say, Ooh, I’d see that movie, even though many of them will be terrible.

And there’s the shared, communal experience, which for introverts who like people but dread actually talking to them is a true, life-giving joy.

For movie geeks, the most bittersweet tweet of this pandemic may have been a movie podcaster asking people to “Tell me your favorite moment you ever experienced in a movie theater.” If you need proof movie theaters are great, read all 7,000 responses.

Usually, crowded is better. There’s a current of excitement that runs through a sold-out auditorium at a Friday night premiere of a big new movie. It takes me back to the first night I had my first car. I drove it to a screening of The Sixth Sense.

But crowded is not better during a pandemic. Arriving at Studio Movie Grill for Space Jam on a day when Florida announced a record 8,942 new COVID-19 infections, I secretly hoped the theater would be completely empty.

“There’s actually a lot of people in Space Jam,” the ticket attendant said to another employee as I walked in. So much for that.

There were about a dozen people in the auditorium, including adult men in Orlando Magic…

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