Movie Theaters in Some Cities Now Check for Vaccine Proof, Raising Fears About Release Delays

Movie theaters in a handful of cities around the country will soon be checking for proof of vaccination — creating one more obstacle to the full return of moviegoing.

In New York, the requirement goes into effect on Tuesday. Joe Masher, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners of New York, said he worried about the logistics of enforcing the rule.

But his greater concern was that the citywide mandates would trigger another round of release delays by the major studios. On Friday, Sony announced it was postponing “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” by three weeks, as the delta variant continues to spread across the country.

“We’re really terrified about what’s going to happen,” said Masher, who is also chief operating officer of Bow Tie Cinemas. “I know these mayors think they’re doing the right thing, but they seem to leave theaters in the lurch all the time.”

In New Orleans, a vaccine mandate went into effect on Monday. Theaters, restaurants, bars, and performance venues in the city are now required to check for either a vaccine or a negative COVID test within the last 72 hours.

Robert Brunet, owner of the Prytania Theatres in New Orleans, said he worries that he will lose attendance, given that less than half the state’s population has received a vaccine dose.

He said that his older patrons are often proud to show their proof of vaccination, but that tourists from nearby states, including Texas and Florida, are “a little bitter and upset about it.”

He said he was worried that unvaccinated patrons would go to AMC Theaters, which are not within the New Orleans metro area, but in neighboring parishes.

“You go there, there’s no mask requirement, no vaccine requirement,” he said. “It’s the wild, wild west in some of these places.”

In San Francisco, a vaccine mandate is set to go into effect on Friday. Adam Bergeron, owner of the Vogue Theatre and the Balboa Theatre, said he hopes the requirement will put some patrons at ease.

San Francisco has a high vaccination rate — 85% of those 12 and up have gotten at least a first dose — but some vaccinated guests are still worried about sharing space with unvaccinated people. He noted increased fears about the delta variant in the last two weeks, and said that families in particular are still not coming to the movies.

Bergeron’s theaters had previously put up signs encouraging patrons to get vaccinated, but had not gone so far as to make it a requirement.

“I think this is a big weight off of businesses that were having to make these decisions themselves,” he said.

In New York, the vaccine mandate will not be enforced until Sept. 13. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the goal of the requirement — which also affects restaurants, gyms, museums and cultural venues — is largely to encourage younger people to get vaccinated.

“We know how important that is,” de Blasio said. “One of the biggest areas of concern is reaching younger New Yorkers, our 20-somethings, 30-somethings who need to be convinced that it’s so powerful to be vaccinated.”

Masher said it was still not clear how theaters would handle the vaccine verification, given that most tickets are bought online. He said he had offered to set up vaccination clinics in theater lobbies, but that it was unfair to use theaters to compel young people to get vaccinated.

“There are still — to this day — zero cases of COVID traced to a movie theater, and we’re receiving disparate treatment again,” Masher said. “Movie theaters are going to suffer.”

Los Angeles is also exploring a vaccine mandate, though the scope of the mandate and the timetable remain uncertain.

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