Theaters are testing whether Americans are ready to return to the movies.

Theater executives are betting that a Covid-19 vaccine will arrive and that studios will soon return to their decades-old system of releasing movies. “There is significant pent-up demand” for the theater experience, one executive said.

“The New Mutants” is the most expensive Hollywood film to be released since March and is trial balloon for whether people are ready for theatrical releases. Its reception suggests that the road ahead for Hollywood will be anything but easy, Brooks Barnes reports.

“It felt odd,” Shawn Mitchell, 25, said about returning to the movies as he left Regal Sunset Station on Thursday. “It was harder to just zone out during the movie. Now you’re more aware of what’s happening around you in the theater.”

Was that the sound of someone shaking kernels in the bottom of a popcorn bucket — or a dry cough? (Whew, popcorn.) Were any workers monitoring the theater as the movie played and reminding patrons that they had to wear masks if they weren’t eating or drinking? (Not that I ever saw.) Is that woman sitting nearby seriously going to watch the entire film with her mask dangling from one ear? (Yup.)

By the end of the 98-minute movie, many of the attendees were mask free, their popcorn long since munched. At one point, my mind wandered away from the mutants trying to escape a marauding computer-generated bear. I couldn’t stop thinking about a trailer for a coming disaster movie that had played before the film in which a voice had instructed: “Seek shelter immediately! Seek shelter immediately!” I comforted myself by tightening my own mask and using some Clorox wipes to make a little pillow for my head on the reclining seat.

But no one else seemed concerned. “I’m young and healthy, so I’m not really worried about it,” said a mask-free Malary Marshall, 24, before the movie started.

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