Debbie Rich, a real-estate lawyer in Great Neck, started working from home in March after her office shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Seven months later, as businesses have begun re-opening, Rich is slowly venturing back into the world. She has returned to her office part-time and has eaten at several outdoor restaurants with her husband and two children.
The one activity she hasn’t been allowed to resume: going to the movies.
"I love the experience of getting popcorn and being with people, and you think about nothing for two hours," Rich, 56, said. "I would go if it was done safely."
In the days before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced he would allow cinemas in Nassau and Suffolk counties to re-open Oct. 23, Long Islanders spoke to Newsday about whether or not they would return to their local theater. Most expressed a keen desire for the once-commonplace activity of seeing a movie. Few seemed put off by the potential health risks, and many felt confident that theaters would keep their establishments clean and safe. Others voiced concern that even if they were to step inside a theater, there wouldn’t be anything to see.
"At this point, that’s probably the driving factor," said Norm Prusslin of Mount Sinai, a media studies professor at Stony Brook University. A fan of documentaries and dramas, Prusslin, 69, said the recent Netflix film "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is the kind of movie he would have seen in a theater. Other recent theatrical releases, such as the Russell Crowe thriller "Unhinged" or the superhero-horror film "The New Mutants," wouldn’t be enough to get him out to a multiplex. Even Christopher Nolan’s "Tenet," once heralded as the blockbuster that would save Hollywood from the pandemic, doesn’t hold much interest for Prusslin.
The one movie he might rush to see? "No Time to Die," the James Bond installment starring Daniel Craig in his final outing as 007. "The other ones, at least immediately, they wouldn’t get me out there."
Ditto for Hugh Megaro, a delivery driver in Ronkonkoma. "I’ve seen every James Bond movie in a theater and I’m not going to stop now," he said. Megaro, 64, recalls falling asleep as a tot in the back of a station wagon while watching 1963’s "Dr. No" at a drive-in – "but I still count it," he said.
Megaro was disappointed when "No Time to Die," originally scheduled for November, was postponed until April 2021, a move that helped convince Regal, the country’s second-largest theater chain, to close all U.S. venues for the remainder of this year. "I thought maybe it would be the breakthrough to get things open again," Megaro said of the Bond film, "but they chickened out." (Regal quickly backtracked after Cuomo’s announcement and said it will re-open three locations on Long Island.)
Megaro also said he wasn’t terribly concerned about the health risks of visiting a movie theater. "I personally believe it’s for nothing," he said of the various precautions, including wearing a mask. "If I go to a store and they’re not wearing it, then I don’t. And if they are, I do. I’ll meet society half-way, I’ve got no problem with that," he said.
Darren Gallagher of West Islip,, a computer hardware consultant, also said movie theaters don’t feel like much of a risk to him. A music-lover and guitarist who plays in the Bruce Springsteen tribute band Badlands, Gallagher has been to see live music over dinner once or twice. He plays tennis when he can and recently joined a gym in Bay Shore.
"I’m cautious but not crazy," Gallagher, 55, said of his daily safety habits. He said if he’s willing to go to a gym where heavy-breathing patrons share equipment and leave sweat-spots on workout benches, then he’s definitely willing to sit in a movie theater. "To me, that’s a no-brainer."