A backpack and large bag ban that's been officially in place for almost two years at the Cinemark/Century cinema chain has apparently been getting enforced more vigorously in the Bay Area in recent months according to various reports from disgruntled theater-goers.
Ticketholders at the Century 9 theater at San Francisco's Westfield Centre, the CinéArts at the Empire in West Portal, and Century 20 Daly City have all posted complaints on Yelp and NextDoor since the beginning of October, noting that they've been sent home or back to their cars with bags that are not allowed in the theaters. When these moviegoers have tried to plead with ticket-takers to check the insides of their bags or to give them someplace to store them on premises, they've been told the policy has no exceptions, and they are not checking — or checking into — people's bags.
The policy was made official in February 2018, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, noting at the time that 15 theaters in Utah were going to be affected. The policy bans all bags — purses, duffel bags, backpacks or others — that are any bigger than 12 inches by 12 inches by 6 inches. The only exceptions made are for diaper bags and medical equipment.
But it seems pretty clear that the policy has been somewhat unevenly enforced across Cinemark's properties. Given how annoying it is to arrive at a theater with a bag you've been carrying all day and being told you have to go put it somewhere else before entering, there would certainly have been more of an online outcry, and there hasn't been until recently.
SFist contacted a manager at the Century 9 downtown who said the policy had been in place since early 2018, and was not new at any local Cinemark theater.
But moviegoers have only recently begun taking note on social media and Yelp. One man named David who lives near Lake Merced posted on NextDoor on November 6 saying:
Cinearts [at] the Empire in West Portal just started enforcing their backpack policy recently. This means that I, an online Professor and writer, who always have my backpack with me, can no longer see movies there. I walk 45 minutes from my home in Lake Merced to West Portal, do my work at Ballast Coffee and other places, then go to a movie; I love the movies, and usually see 2 every month just at that theatre. I've seen dozens of movies there. It is not reasonable, for me, that I could alter this routine in any way that omits my backpack. There were 5 Lowell High school students that walked near me all the way to the theatre; we were all going to see 'Jojo Rabbit.' All the students had their school backpacks, too, and they were all turned away for the same reason.
A commenter named Beth responded, "This just happened to my friend and I on Sunday, we both took bags and transit to Daly City Bart to go to a movie at Century Daly City. We bought our tix on Fandango and no info [about] the bag policy when the tickets were purchased. Told we couldn’t come in by 3 people including a manager. We had to Lyft back to my apt to leave our bags and Lyft back to just go to the movie."
Their complaints about recent enforcement are confirmed by Yelpers like Nate G., who posted about being turned away from CinéArts at the Empire because of his backpack on October 18. "Never supporting this theater again."
Jon L. posted a similar gripe about the Century 20 in Daly City on November 15, saying he was turned away because "It seems that this theater has arbitrarily chosen to not allow people with regular-sized backpacks to see movies." That apparently happened in October, but there are five other complaints on the theater's Yelp page from the past week alone.
Another Yelper, B'fly K., says, "I have been going to this theater for years and it has been very convenient and a pleasure... [After being turned away because of my backpack] I spoke with the security guard and manager who apologized but said it was their policy and has been for the past two years. I've been using the same backpack for over 5 years."
Also, one moviegoer named Malvika R. said that the theater's security was especially rude to her and her friends about their bags, and it felt "racist."
Given how deeply the movie business has been affected by Netflix, online streaming, and inexpensive, large-scale home-entertainment setups, it seems like Cinemark might want to consider inspecting bags rather than banning them altogether. Obviously we all understand the paranoia about people bringing guns into theaters after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, but that was seven years ago, most other movie theaters don't ban bags, and it doesn't seem like theater shootings are an epidemic.
If I had to guess, it sounds like a memo must have gone out recently about enforcement of the backpack policy, because it does not sound like any of these theaters were following that rule to the letter until recently — if Yelp and NextDoor complaints are to be believed.
But the official word is nothing is different, and you all should have known better and gotten the memo two years ago.