AMC Social Distancing Protocols

New Jersey movie theaters have been denied their request to reopen by a judge, who upheld the state’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The judge denied a motion for an injunction, which had been requested by the National Association of Theatre Owners and six cinema chains, that argued that the state was infringing on theaters’ First Amendment rights.

Everything is legal in New Jersey, just not reopening movie theaters during a state-wide pandemic shutdown. Variety reports that Judge Brian Martinotti upheld the New Jersey government’s order to close down movie theaters in the states, finding that the state is not infringing on theaters’ First Amendment rights. In his 33-page opinion, Martinotti found that the order to be content-neutral, and that the state had shown it was a reasonable response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In closing indoor movie theater operations, Defendants are promoting the significant governmental interest of protecting public health by keeping closed areas that present heightened risks for COVID-19 transmission,” Martinotti wrote.

The injunction was sought out by NATO, the main lobbying group for movie theaters, as well as six cinema chains, which banded together to argue that the state was discriminating against them by allowing churches to remain open while theaters were ordered to close. The theaters filed the suit on July 7, hoping to get a ruling in their favor that would pressure other states to reopen. Despite warnings from experts, theaters are planning to reopen by the end of August, for new releases like New Mutants and Tenet. But the state had argued that theaters posed a unique risk because of the difficulty to enforce a mask mandate. Martinotti upheld the state’s arguments as a “rational basis” for the order.

“By closing only indoor movie theaters, Defendants are leaving open ‘ample alternative methods of communication’ in the form of outdoor movie theaters and at-home streaming options,” Martinotti wrote.

The highly anticipated Warner Bros. tentpole Tenet is being eyed as the blockbuster that will reopen theaters (despite 20th Century’s New Mutants being offered as the first sacrificial lamb) and re-energize the businesses of exhibition chains, which have been forced to close their locations since late March. But with cases spiking across the U.S., and several states like New Jersey holding firm to shutdown plans, it’s unclear how many theaters can reopen, especially in major markets like New York and California. Currently, Maryland, North Carolina and New Mexico also have no plans to reopen theaters.

Meanwhile, the nation’s largest theater chain, AMC Theaters, begins reopening its theaters with the premiere of New Mutants on August 26, 2020. Just not in New Jersey.

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