Cinemas face Ontario’s new capacity rules on ‘Spider Man’ opening weekend

People at a Cineplex in Toronto on August 18, 2020. (Melissa Tait / The Globe and Mail)

TORONTO — New capacity limits taking effect at Ontario cinemas won’t leave Spider-Man fans out in the cold.

Cineplex Inc. and Landmark Cinemas, two of Canada’s largest film exhibitors, say moviegoers who pre-purchased tickets for the anticipated blockbuster “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will still have seats when COVID-19 measures cap large venues to 50 per cent capacity Friday at midnight.

That’s because Premier Doug Ford’s latest rules for indoor facilities holding more than 1,000 people don’t mandate physical distancing.

For multiplexes, that means one auditorium can be filled at more than 50 per cent, as long as the entire building remains at half capacity.

In practice, crowds inside one showing of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” could exceed 50 per cent capacity, as long as screenings for less popular movies even out the balance.

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Movie theatres in Kingston, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie are an exception as those regions face specific health directives that include social distancing and limit capacity at 50 per cent for each auditorium.

Cineplex noted late Friday that its Ottawa theatres would also be subject to distancing rules starting on Sunday.

The new capacity limits come into effect shortly before another round of tightened restrictions are introduced early Sunday morning.

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Ford’s government said late Friday the new precautions include a prohibition on food and drink sales at various venues, including movie theatres. Concession sales are a significant portion of a multiplex’s operating revenues, as the majority of most ticket sales go to the film’s distributor.

The province says the tighter food and drink rules are part of an effort to discourage people from removing their masks and potentially spreading the virus in public.

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“Spider-Man: No Way Home” arrives in cinemas after record-breaking ticket pre-sales. Industry estimates suggest the film could pull in upwards of $130 million over the weekend, which would be the highest opening for any film since the pandemic began.

The Marvel superhero movie is one of the biggest titles of the Christmas movie season which will see the release of several other major titles, including “The Matrix Resurrections,” “The King’s Man,” “Sing 2” and awards hopeful “Licorice Pizza” next weekend.

Cineplex Inc., the country’s largest movie chain, says it plans to follow the new government guidelines by moving some guests with reserved tickets to other seats in less-filled auditoriums when they arrive.

“We appreciate our guests’ patience and understanding as our local teams do their best to implement these new mandated changes under very tight timelines,” the company said in a statement.

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“Our priority is first to implement these new guidelines, and secondly, to safely accommodate all of our guests with tickets to upcoming showtimes.”

Landmark Cinemas, which operates a fewer number of cinemas in the province, says the latest capacity limits will have little noticeable impact.

“Moviegoers will be able to experience ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ in all Landmark theatres without change to their previously purchased seats,” the company said in a statement, noting it has larger venues in Kanata, Whitby, Kitchener, and Waterloo.

“We will monitor ticket sales to ensure we are in compliance with the government’s order to maintain 50 per cent occupancy in the complex.”

Other provinces have taken different approaches to theatre capacity and distancing measures.

Rules in British Columbia and Quebec match Ontario, while most theatres in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are capped at 50 per cent capacity and subject to physical distancing.

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