A spacious, carpeted lobby features a baby grand piano, leather armchairs and potted palms brightly lit under the high ceilings. The hallway leads to a fine-dining restaurant in one direction, and in the other . . . a movie theater. The Cinema De Lux in Foxborough, Mass., is one of many “luxury” movie theaters changing the cinema experience.
Taking a trip to the movie theater used to be as simple as choosing which film to see. Now, consumers are faced with numerous choices when it comes to viewing Hollywood’s latest flick.
The first battle is getting viewers out of their living rooms. Home theaters are now state-of-the-art, with big-screen, high-definition televisions and surround sound. Now that some cable providers offer new releases over pay-per-view or OnDemand, film buffs are able to watch the newest movies in the comfort of their own homes.
To compete with these home cinemas, the silver screen is striving to offer consumers something they cannot recreate. For some theaters, this means high-class dining, childcare and valet parking. For others, such as Rave Motion Pictures, this means offering viewers the best possible visual experience.
Added amenities present movie theater companies an opportunity to distinguish themselves from their competition, which includes home theaters. However, many cinema experts said the movie theater business is not going anywhere.
“Every year, someone runs around like Chicken Little saying the theater business is dead,” Jeremy Devine, Rave Motion Pictures spokesman, said. “In the 50s it was TV, in the
80s video and now because of [Web] streaming and home viewing.
“People like the theaters. Change the competition, and theaters will survive. They’ll change but survive,” Devine said.
THE “DE LUX”
The concept of a luxury theater can mean several different concepts. Currently, there are only smatterings of small chains that offer luxury theaters in the United States. National Amusements, which has 1,300 screens throughout the country, was the first major chain to introduce a luxury alternative.
Showcase Cinema De Lux, which National Amusements boasts as its “premium brand of movie theaters,” offers many services that go well beyond “just the selling of tickets, popcorn and putting a movie on the screen,” Wanda Whitson, director of Corporate Communications for National Amusements, wrote in an email.
“A luxury movie theater can be considered as one that offers the movie-goer an experience and physical environment that surpasses the ordinary,” Whitson wrote. “Today, stadium seating, surround stereo sound and basic concessions availability could be considered as a ‘standard’ theater – nice, but not extraordinary or luxurious. To get to luxury, the environment needs to significantly change.”
To go beyond the norm of typical cinemas, Cinema De Lux customers pay the price of a regular movie ticket, as well as a $10 fee. The fee entitles guests to use an exclusive parking area, in which attendants will clean the snow off the customers’ cars or offer umbrellas in the rain. Once inside, customers have access to coat-checks, wireless Internet and fine dining.
“Until recently, dinner and a movie meant going to a favorite restaurant, parking the car and making certain there was ample time available to eat, travel again to the cinema and arrive in time for the desired movie,” Whitson wrote.
“Now, Cinema De Lux Customers have the convenience of having everything in one spot,” she wrote.
Students should not rush to the newest De Lux theater at Patriot Place in Foxborough just yet, however. The De Lux experience is limited to moviegoers who are 21 and older.
“It’s designed for the customers whose relaxation time is important, but limited,” Watson said.
Some students said they would not likely pay the extra money to go to a luxury theater, and many said even the usual $10 to see a movie at a traditional theater is too much.
“I went to the movies a lot this summer because I discovered $6 Tuesdays,” Ali Briden, a junior in the School of Education, said.
In addition to attending the theater on discount days, Briden admitted to smuggling in her own food to avoid costly concessions.
Other students viewed luxury theaters as unnecessary. Libby Allen, a College of Communication junior, said she likely would not go to a luxury theater.
“The movie industry is already taking in too much money,” Allen, a film major, said. “I go [to the theater] for the new movie, not the experience of feeling like a celebrity.”
Muvico Theaters, which operates 13 theaters in Florida, Illinois and Maryland has an arguably more extravagant approach to luxury theaters than Cinema De Lux. Muvico builds stylish theaters with Parisian and Egyptian themes.
Like Cinema De Lux, Muvico customers pay regular ticket prices, in addition to a $9.50 VIP charge. In the theaters, which are also limited to the 21-plus crowd, customers are offered childcare, reserved seating and many dining options, according to the company’s website.
Muvico strives to make its theaters so “the movie is part of the overall entertainment experience” rather than the only focus, according to the company’s website.
OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM
For National Amusements and Muvico, luxury movie theaters are all-inclusive and lavish, offering top-notch services in addition to the film itself. Rave Motion Pictures, a theater company based in Dallas, TX, that runs 27 venues across the country, takes a different approach to luxury.
Jeremy Devine, of Rave, said the chain was the first to adopt completely digital production, which offers viewers the cleanest picture possible. Combined with “really, really comfortable” design, this form is what sets Rave apart from the competition.
“We go for the perfect visual presentation,” Devine said. “It’s like an arms race. The first transition was flat [seating] to stadium-style seating, then added amenities.”
Rave’s theaters, which are mostly in the South and Midwest, offer plush seats and four feet of space between rows. Also, each row is 18 inches higher than the seat in front of it, making the stadium higher and deeper than regular theater and giving viewers a comfortable and completely unobstructed view of the film.
Devine recognized that other chains have chosen to go “luxury” in different ways and said the theater industry is constantly evolving.
“Wine and valet parking are definitely a trend,” Devine said. “Our trend is perfect projection.”
He said viewers continue to visit the theater because of the “communal” aspect, but theaters must differentiate themselves from home-viewing options to have continued success.
Unlike National Amusements and Muvico, Rave does not limit shows by age but tries to “capture a wide age demographic,” Devine said. Rave does not target affluent communities, but instead it targets medium-sized markets that are underserved.
Perhaps most pleasing to customers, Rave’s prices are no different from traditional theaters. Devine said by having better service at the same price, the customers receive a bargain, and the company gets an edge over its competition.
Nina Scranton, a COM freshman, said her local theater in Braintree, Mass., has a small “VIP section,” where viewers pay $15 to enjoy the food service in addition to the feature presentation. Scranton said she sat in the VIP section on a trip to the movies with her parents, but said she would be unlikely to pay for VIP access herself, and she would never pay more than $15 for a movie.
“You don’t think of classy when you think of the movies,” she said.
DINNER AND A MOVIE, WITHOUT THE CHANDELIERS
Some theater companies fall in between Rave and Showcase Cinema De Lux on the luxury spectrum. Alamo Drafthouse, which has a number of theaters throughout Texas, offers patrons in-seat dining service and only admits an 18-plus crowd, unless the minor is accompanied by a parent.
John Gross, Alamo’s creative director, said he considers the chain more of an “eat-drink-movie concept” than a luxury theater. Alamo theaters look like traditional movie theaters, except each seat is behind a table. Gross said the chain prides itself on combining the best in beer, food, movies and a good time.
“Our main draw is that we’re fun,” Gross said, citing Alamo’s many specials, such as “Weird Wednesdays” or “Spaghetti Westerns” that attract a wide variety of viewers.
“We’re all over the place, but it seems to work,” he said. “After you’ve had all that, it’s hard to go back to the megaplex.”
Alamo’s ticket prices are slightly less than admission to traditional movie theaters in the area, Gross said.
Chunky’s Cinema and Pub, with three theaters in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, offers services similar to Alamo’s but targets families rather than just adults, owner Jim Nagel said.
Nagel described Chunky’s as “a restaurant inside of a movie theater,” where moviegoers sit in oversized limousine seats, but the owner does not consider his chain “luxury” theaters. The atmosphere and menu of Chunky’s has a more casual feel than the cinemas with fine-dining restaurants.
Chunky’s does well with children’s and family films, and like Alamo Drafthouse, the company keeps prices about 20 percent less than traditional theaters in the area, Nagel said.
COMING SOON TO A THEATER/RESTAURANT/
LOUNGE NEAR YOU
In a time of economic turmoil and pinched pennies, it would seem that movie theaters would be one of the first places to take an economic hit. However, the luxury theater industry continues to grow. Muvico will be expanding its theaters into New York, California, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia over the next two years, according to the company’s website.
Divine, of Rave, said Village Roadshow Limited, which operates “super-lux” theaters in Australia, also plans to open cinemas in the United States this year.