TORONTO — Ontario and Manitoba head back to the movies this weekend, joining the rest of the country for a summer season delayed by starkly different pandemic restrictions.
Both provinces move forward with reopening plans that allow cinemas to screen a fresh slate of films for the first time in months. Movie theatres in Ontario reopened Friday, while Manitoba got the go-ahead for Saturday.
In Toronto, dozens of diehard Marvel Universe fans flocked to the downtown Scotiabank Theatre on Friday afternoon to catch an early screening of "Black Widow" on the multiplex's massive Imax screen.
The superhero adventure, which stars Scarlett Johansson, opened in most regions last weekend and was available to purchase on the Disney Plus streaming service.
Cinemas hope "Black Widow" will help carry them through the summer alongside a slate of other major Hollywood titles, including "Space Jam: A New Legacy," "A Quiet Place Part II" and "F9," the latest entry in the "Fast & Furious" franchise.
At a Cineplex location in Oakville, Ont., Monique Armstrong emerged from a morning showing of "The Forever Purge," the latest sequel in the dystopian horror series.
She said she's missed the movie theatre popcorn and the cinematic experience, but was surprised by how few people showed up in the earliest hours of reopening.
"The first day of reopening you'd think they'd be packed, but it wasn't at all, so it was nice," she said, wondering if more people would show up for evening movies.
"I'll be back next week, hopefully, to watch another one."
Theatres in Ontario have been closed longer than anywhere else in North America, with locations in the Greater Toronto Area shuttered for nine months.
As they reopen, the COVID-19 guidelines at theatres will vary by province.
In Ontario, seating is reserved with moviegoers required to wear face masks and distance between groups, while auditoriums are capped at 50 per cent capacity and cannot exceed 1,000 people within an entire multiplex.
Manitoba cinemas must also maintain 50 per cent capacity and require moviegoers to wear masks and show proof of vaccination alongside their ticket.
British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, do not require masks inside cinemas, while distancing rules vary across the country.
Quebec theatres, which have been allowed to open since February, recently saw capacity restrictions loosened. Moviegoers from different households now only require one empty seat between them instead of 1.5 metres.
Outside the major chains, the speed of movie theatre reopenings will be slower.
While several independent theatres and art house cinemas announced immediate reopenings, others told followers on social media that it will take a week or longer to ramp up from lengthy closures, as employees return to work and map out movie bookings.
— with files from Denise Paglinawan
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2021.
David Friend, The Canadian Press