Published: 06:00, 24 March 2021
Most cinemas have only been able to screen films for a handful of weeks in the past 12 months, after coronavirus restrictions effectively curtailed the industry.
But with the government's road map to economic recovery inching us closer to something approaching normality, popcorn machines across Kent could be firing up very soon.
Indeed, it's been so long since movies have been screened in theatres that the manager of one chain in Sittingbourne had to get the sleeping film equipment serviced due to its inactivity.
Clare Ralph, manager of the New Century cinema on High Street, was forced to have a dormant projector and electronic equipment repaired after such a long period of downtime.
It's the longest amount of time the equipment has ever gone not screening a film for audiences.
Clare said: "I still go in every single day - I've been painting and decorating it and sorting it all out.
"I had to keep an eye on my projectors because they've been off for so long, now they've had to be serviced.
"It's happened with a lot of cinemas I think, their servers have gone down and the projectors have failed.
"So many people say 'oh it's easy you just put a DVD in' but it's not as easy as you think - it's quite stressful, but rewarding at the same time."
Claire is eager to open for the first time since October, when lockdown restrictions tightened after the comparatively-relaxed summer period.
But in July when the first lockdown rules were slackened, she wasn't greeted with lines of moviegoers, arms laden with popcorn and snacks.
Despite a calendar of small releases and classics from decades past, Clare saw just a fraction of the footfall she would normally get prior to the pandemic.
She said: "No one was coming through the doors anyway, so hopefully this time will be different.
"The better films are coming out, so as long as that stays on schedule I should be OK."
Providing the PM's roadmap remains unchanged, Clare will reopen the Sittingbourne cinema on May 17.
Her hope is that tentpole releases such as Marvel Studios' Black Widow and Peter Rabbit 2 will help her get the theatre back on its feet - and audiences back in the seats.
But the rise of streaming has changed the dynamic of how new films are seen by audiences, with many studios pivoting to home streaming options in the absence of exhibitors being able to screen their films.
Last year, Disney's live-action remake of Mulan was one of the first $200m + films to be shown exclusively on streaming services, with audiences having to pay a premium rate to watch it on the Disney Plus platform.
It still remains to be seen if people will even want to return to cinemas once the country opens back up, after months of getting used to watching films from the comfort of their living rooms.
But there is still plenty of hope left in the industry - mammoth multiplex chain Cineworld yesterday announced plans to reopen its 127 outlets in May, following the planned easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Bosses told Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden that the industry was no longer viable because of decisions to postpone big-budget releases by the likes of Warner Bros and Disney.
But their fresh announcement could act as a kickstarter for the rest of the industry, encouraging consumer confidence and convincing Hollywood studios that releasing their films in theatres can be financially viable once again.
Chris Lightwing, manager and co-owner of the The Silver Screen, based in the Town Hall in Folkestone, is cautiously optimistic about the future of cinemas across the county.
The seaside picturehouse has been closed even longer than New Century, having decided not to open during last summer when eased restrictions would have allowed them to.
Chris said: "We are preparing for it - we're looking at late May or possibly June but we don't have a date yet.
"It's now looking a lot more optimistic, the film release schedule seems to be a lot more stable, there are fewer changes and there seems to be a good line up of films from summer onwards.
"And the increase in vaccination in the UK is progressing very well, so it's looking a lot more optimistic I would say."
Alongside the promise of tentpole films to help pack auditoriums, Chris has also been exploring other ways to entice audiences back when they finally reopen.
He said: "We're working with the British Film Institute (BFI) and other local organisations to sustain and develop the cinema once we do reopen.
"We anticipate there will probably be fewer new film releases because it's been difficult to make films whilst the pandemic has been going on
"We're planning to diversify and look at delivering, alongside big film releases, engaging activities, educational talks and workshops and other events."
Although some have predicted the necessary move to streaming as a fatal blow to cinemas, Cineworld's latest announcement suggests the cynics among us may have spoken too early.
Under the current film release model, new movies opening in the US also stream exclusively on the American service HBO Max for 31 days.
But WarnerMedia has now struck a deal with Cineworld to release films as cinema-only beginning in 2022, with a block on them being released on demand for at least a month.
In a statement, Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said: "This agreement shows the studio’s commitment to the theatrical business and we see this agreement as an important milestone in our 100 year relationship with Warner Bros."
Echoing the sentiment of the multiplex boss, Chris at the Silver Screen hopes to see similar promises from other studios.
He said: "We are hoping to see more of that commitment from the other studios and the other distributors to hopefully match those streaming windows.
"We'd hope they support all the sectors of the industry because it's a wide industry and if you don't support certain sectors then it will certainly change the landscape.
"We're optimistic they're going to be continuing those release windows once cinemas start opening."