The movies are America's great escape — at least they were before Sept. 11.

But these days, fear of terrorism has even come to the door at local theaters.

Although travelers expect long waits as their luggage is searched at airports, people may be surprised when workers inspect all purses and bags on the way to see Monsters Inc. or Serendipity.

Starting this month, Loews theaters will begin asking customers to open up their bags as they enter movie houses – and security won't just be checking for outside food or drinks.

"We have asked our customers to help in this effort by refraining from bringing packages in," Loews Cineplex vice president Mindy Tucker said. "We realize that in some locations that's not feasible so we're implementing some search procedures."

Loews won't be using X-ray machines, armed guards or heavy-handed tactics. Door workers will briefly check bags for anything suspicious. Customers who refuse to open up will be shown the door.

"It's unfortunate, but in order to implement these measures, if we have to turn customers away in order to ensure comfort and safety of the majority of our patrons, we will," Tucker said.

Most other theater chains are waiting to see how tightened security will play with audiences. Many movie exhibitors have filed for bankruptcy in the last several years and are reluctant to do anything that might further erode vanishing profits.

"These exhibitors are hurting very badly already and all we'd need is for a terrible event at a theater to throw it into even worse chaos," The Hollywood Reporter's Paul Bond said.

At one Los Angeles-area theater, moviegoers seemed willing to make a sacrifice for a sense of safety.

"I think we're in a different time right now," one patron said. "With all that has happened, I think it's important."

Whether audiences will be deterred by the searches is yet to be seen. But studios need the seats filled now more than ever as the season for holiday blockbusters and Oscar-bound flicks gets underway.