UPDATE: As of Saturday, March 14, the Brattle Theater will be closed to the public until at least April 2 and the Coolidge Corner Theatre will be closed until at least April 3. (Both will continue to pay employees, unlike some independent theaters in other cities, which have put staff salaries and medical insurance on furlough.) The AMC Theatres chain and Arclight Cinemas, which owns a new theater near North Station, have posted “social distancing” seating plans on their websites. Regal Cinemas has sent an email to members of its “Regal Crown Club” but has yet to post any information on its site.
Sports seasons have been suspended. Restaurants and coffee shops are emptying out. Concerts and plays and arts festivals have been canceled. Tom Hanks has it, for crying out loud.
What do you say we all go to a movie?
While other arts and leisure time activities have addressed the coronavirus pandemic in the past week, the film industry — and especially its exhibition wing — has been curiously silent. You’d think a business that brings random strangers together in a room for two hours, with concessions, would make its own concessions to what’s happening outside its doors. And in fact a recent Hollywood Reporter poll found that 38 percent of respondents were in favor of closing movie theaters for the duration (44 percent were opposed).
Of the many multiplexes and independent moviehouses in the Greater Boston area, only the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline and the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge have posted online policies regarding the virus. A spokesperson for Dedham-based National Amusements, which owns the Showcase chain, responded to a reporter’s query with a statement that the company is “closely monitoring” the situation and has instituted a “staff education outreach” program and installed more hand sanitizer stations; a public statement went online on the company’s website on Thursday.
The Landmark chain, which owns the Kendall Square and the Waltham Embassy, is also “monitoring the situation closely,” according to a representative. AMC, which runs the Common and other area multiplexes, had not responded at press time. Aside from National Amusements, none of the major chains have posted any coronavirus-related statements on their websites.
Why? Because they’re terrified people will stop going. The film exhibition business runs on razor-thin profit margins, and the prospect of going dark for even a few weeks is enough to make a multiplex executive see red. For an indie art house that relies on a loyal audience to pay the rent, the outlook is even more dire — the theater’s survival itself is at stake.
Which doesn’t excuse the industry’s head-in-the-sand attitude about the survival of its patrons, an attitude shared by lobbying organization the National Association of Theatre Owners, which has yet to release any sort of statement on the pandemic and only canceled its annual Las Vegas get-together after President Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from Europe.
For now, movies will still open in theaters — although as of Thursday, release postponements were starting to roll in, including for the John Krasinski-directed “A Quiet Place Part II,” the latest “Fast and Furious” installment, and the unfortunately titled James Bond film “No Time to Die” — and I’ll still review them. But it will be up to moviegoers to decide for themselves whether their local cinema is a safe haven or a petri dish.
On a related note, we may all be about to spend an inordinate amount of time at home, so we’re fortunate, I guess, that video on-demand has advanced to the point where it feels like every movie ever made is there for the streaming. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime or a service like Netflix, Hulu, Kanopy, or (the connoisseur’s choice) the Criterion Channel, there are endless titles to be had at the click of a remote; otherwise, you can pay a rental fee and watch films and TV shows on Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay, YouTube, and other online outposts. Want to find a specific title? The online search engine justwatch.com is beyond useful for listing what’s available and where (and for how much). Until then, here are a handful of personally curated mini-festivals to get you started; unless otherwise noted, all films can be rented at Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and other outlets. All you need now are a bucket of popcorn and a hazmat suit.
The “What Do You Mean You’ve Never Seen...” package
“Casablanca” (1942). Everybody comes to Rick’s. Why haven’t you?
“Citizen Kane” (1941). Think of it as the first indie movie ever.
“The Godfather” (1972). Leave the gun. Take the hand sanitizer.
“The Seven Samurai” (1954). Three and a half hours of Kurosawa genius. (Criterion Channel and rental)
“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994). It’s perfectly fine, but the best movie of all time? Someone please explain. (Netflix and rental)
The Musicals package
“Footlight Parade” (1933). No, you didn’t drop acid, it’s a Busby Berkeley musical. (Criterion Channel and rental)
“Funny Face” (1957). Fred and Audrey, and that’s that.
“It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955). Gene Kelly tap dances on roller skates!
“The Last Five Years” (2014). Featuring the ultimate theater kid, Anna Kendrick.
“Once” (2007). What does a musical in real time look like? This.
Classic Comedy package
“Bringing Up Baby” (1938)/“What’s Up Doc?” (1972). A double bill of inspiration and homage. Two of the funniest movies ever made.
“His Girl Friday” (1940). Get a neck brace — the dialogue will give you whiplash.
“The Lady Eve” (1941). Introducing the great Preston Sturges.
“Some Like It Hot” (1959). Nobody’s perfect, but this movie is. (Criterion Channel and rental)
“To Be or Not to Be” (1942). “So they call me Concentration Camp Erhardt...” (Criterion Channel, Kanopy, Turner Classics)
The “Falling in Love Again” package
“I Know Where I’m Going” (1945). My mother’s favorite movie romance, and she had excellent taste. (Criterion Channel and Amazon rental)
“The Lake House” (2006). Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and the dumbest rom-com concept of all time. Irresistible.
“The Shop Around the Corner” (1940). You probably know it as “You’ve Got Mail.” The original’s better.
“Something Wild” (1986). Melanie Griffith takes Jeff Daniels for a walk on the wild side. I miss Jonathan Demme.
“When Harry Met Sally...” (1989). With all that time indoors, maybe you should have what she’s having. (Hulu and rental)
The National Pastime package
“Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973). Tied with “Brian’s Song” for the best male weepie.
“Bull Durham” (1988). Remember when Kevin Costner was the modern-day Gary Cooper?
“Eight Men Out” (1988). John Sayles takes on the Black Sox scandal.
“A League of Their Own” (1992). There’s still no crying in baseball.
“Pride of the Yankees” (1942). Remember when Gary Cooper was the classic-era Kevin Costner? (Microsoft and Hoopla only – why?)
Quarantine 4 Kids package
“Hugo” (2011). Martin Scorsese’s love-letter to Paris and the movies, from the marvelous Brian Selznick book. (Netflix and rental)
“Good Morning” (“Ohayo”) (1959). Delightful human comedy of postwar Japan, told from a kid’s-eye-view. (Criterion and rental)
“My Neighbor Totoro” (1988). Miyazaki magic.
“Matilda” (2005). The best Roald Dahl adaptation? Discuss.
“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (1985). Let’s talk about your big but.
The Masochism Package
“The Andromeda Strain” (1971)
“Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
“The Stand” (1994)