A surprising number did for the first screenings available Monday afternoon at Cinéma Cineplex Forum.

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Movie theaters were permitted to reopen Monday to 50 per cent capacity in Quebec, but the question many had was: Would moviegoers return?

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A surprising number did for the first screenings available Monday afternoon at Cinéma Cineplex Forum.

Jeffrey Chambers was in a particularly ebullient state. A waiter, he has spent much of the last two years locked down and living alone. The moment he had been anticipating for too long a time had finally arrived.

“I just couldn’t watch movies at home, because I felt I was in the same place, my basement, staring at the same screen,” said Chambers, ready to screen Red Rocket. “It’s a whole different experience watching a movie together with an audience. You’re laughing. You’re moved. The sound is better and the screen is better, no matter how good a home system you have. It’s the way movies should be seen.”

Céline Primeau, also set to see Red Rocket, concurred: “I don’t like watching movies on a home screen. It’s just not the same without audiences sharing the experience.”

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Robert Mccrenk, on his way to see Belfast, had also been anticipating this day: “This is the first time in two years I’ve been to a theatre. I don’t usually screen movies at home. This is the only way I like to see films.”

Yann Ropers and Marie-Pierre Bossé were pumped about finally being able to take on Denis Villeneuve’s Dune — certain to be among the Oscar nominees to be announced Tuesday.

“I had the choice to pay $20 to watch it (on pay-per-view) at home, but a film like this must be seen on a large screen to really appreciate it,” Bossé said. “It’s also great to get out.”

All music to the ears of Daniel Séguin, Cineplex’s senior vice-president for national operations

Theaters have been shut down here nearly 12 months of the last 24, and who knows if another closure will come again?

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It’s safe to say many movie buffs have long since come to terms with the closures and have been watching quality fare on the tube from the ever-burgeoning number of streaming services, and from the comfort of their couches all the while saving cash and avoiding transit concerns. But will they remain glued to their home screens?

Séguin believes the full theater experience will bring customers back. He also cites another element: social contact, as noted by the above theatregoers.

“It’s been like a roller-coaster ride for us. The past months have been very challenging, but we believe the future is bright,” Séguin said.

“During the pandemic, some studios experimented with different streaming windows, but I think they have recognized the importance of the theatrical release. We have been getting a lot of support from them, and they’re excited to see their product on big screens. And with the spike we saw at theaters before Christmas with films like Spider-Man: No Way Home, we remain really confident. Still, safety and security remain our primary goal for now.”

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In addition to Dune and Spider-Man, Séguin is confident that fans will flock to see The Matrix Resurrections and, yes, Jackass Forever — which was No. 1 at the box office for opened North American theaters last weekend.

To lure audiences back, theater owners have been sweetening the off-screen experience at multiplexes. Last summer, Cinéma Cineplex Forum converted five of its 22 theaters into high-end VIP auditoriums, all UltraAVX-equipped with wall-to-wall screens and Dolby Atmos surround sound. Reclining heated seats resemble those on airplane business class. Plus, a fully licensed lounge/resto was added, allowing customers to eat and drink at their seats. (The VIP rooms reopen Friday.)

Three days before closure last month, Cinéma Cineplex Odeon Brossard also came out with the ScreenX immersive experience on a ginormous 270-degree screen.

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Guzzo Cinemas boss Vince Guzzo has taken a huge hit with closures over the course of the pandemic, but he remains bullish. Guzzo’s theaters reopen Tuesday, and in what should be an added incentive, Guzzo will be offering Cheapie Tuesday prices — $7 — every day for health-care workers with proper identification.

“Because of the prolonged closings, I think people have had real time to miss us,” Guzzo said. “When you’re quarantined for three months, it’s like a vacation. When you get to six months, it’s like a jail sentence. But now people want to push back, and I think people are going to come back.”

But not all people, Guzzo conceded: “The over-60s… they’re already scared about going back to theaters. They’ve become more hypochondriacs than they were before. They weren’t my key clientele anyway.”

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He is, however, quite confident that younger crowds will return en masse for spectacles like Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Matrix Resurrections and The Batman, which opens in March.

“We can argue all we want about what kind of movies (producers) make or don’t make. But the reality is those are the kinds of movies that attract the crowds to theaters.”

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