Reinventing The Moviegoing Experience

from the about-time dept

For quite some time we’ve been amazed that the movie industry seems to constantly be complaining about how people aren’t going to the movies any more — and then trying to blame it on everything from text messages to BitTorrent without ever seeming to realize that going to the movies is a social experience. Improve the experience and more people will go to the movies. Instead, however, theater owners mostly just want to whine about how there’s nothing they can do to compete with DVDs or downloads. However, while the big theater chains and the major studio execs might not get it, it’s always been true that some smaller theaters have figured out ways to improve the experience. They’ve learned to make going to the movies fun, not just seeing the movie.

A few recent blog posts suggest that some more people are finally trying to put in place business plans to do just that. Last week, indie theater owner Mark Cuban put forth a challenge, asking how to get people to actually go out to the movies. Robert Young, over at GigaOm, has put forth his response, suggesting that theaters learn to encourage positive word of mouth marketing related to actually going to the theater, by allowing people to pass on their ticket stubs to allow discounts for others to see the same movie. Meanwhile, Alex Billington wrote in to point out his own post about a new operation he’s put together, called, which is designed to encourage people to come out to opening nights by giving them some kind of additional value, such as movie posters, free passes or other things. Neither of these ideas alone may amount to very much, but it’s a start. It’s showing that at least some people are working on ways to move the experience of going to the movies in the right direction… though it seems unlikely that the legacy players in the industry are going to recognize any of this any time soon.

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Comments on “Reinventing The Moviegoing Experience”

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DJ Powell says:

Movie Experience

I feel the same way. For years now I have been complaining about the Movie Theater Experience. My big beef is the running of commercials. I have complained to deaf ears to the theaters, advertisers, and film studios.

Going to the movies is no different than staying home and watching TV. Which I can do without the hassles. I no longer go out to the movies. What is so special about it? Nothing.

Until things change, I will say home with my money.

Movies used to be an experience in wonderful palaces, with serial shorts and fun trailers and delicious affordable snacks. Even the whole experience was fun and affordable.

Now days they greedily jack up the price and give you nothing but lousy food, commercials, rude cell phone interruptions, sad trailers, and sticky and smelly multiplex cabins.

Until Movie Theaters step up to the plate and begin offering quality experieces patrons will run not walk to their 1 inch by 1 inch cell phone screens for entertainment.

Wake up AMC and friends.

michael says:

how about....

smellovision! i think thats the way to go… maybe more gold class cinemas (extra cushy seats, food and drink services brought to you during the movie) at cheaper prices, and lastly i think that the movies should involve seperate paths of story development in which the audience can choose the way the movie progresses.. like those pick-a-path books a while back.. and robots.. more robots

John Bailey says:

An old fogy comments

Someone did try to get a cut price cimnema going here in England a few years ago, but despite his best efforts, he was shot down by the distributers. Couldn’t get first release movies, couldn’t guarantee being supplied with the movies he ordered if I remember correctly. Like the rest of the entertainment business, its an ingrained network determined to keep the status quo.

ScaredOfTheMan says:

How about Not Charging $14.50 for an order of chicken Tenders and a Coke? (Last Friday in VA).

The owners forget that most people actually like going to movies as its an escape from our day to day. Everyone has great memories of going to movies as growing up. But that quickly gets squashed by, $12 Tickets, $10 Snacks (min) and generally disgruntle staff.

Make the movies a better immersive experience, people will come. Keep doing this, and well…..I am happy I have my Big Plasma and Surround Sound system.

blleininger says:

Enhance the experience

More comfortable seats. With more space front, sides, and back! Make it so I don’t have to walk over somebody, or them, me, to get to and from the seat.

Different sitting arrangements possible, combined lounge chairs, sofas, seats for two (dare I say love seats?), etc.

Ability to reserve particular seating arrangement. You coming with family of 5? How about a big sofa, or a grouped set of comfy chairs. The first come, first serve, thing already starts to degrade the experience.

No commercials. I’m already paying for the ride, either give me commercials and a free movie, or kill the tailers, or at least limit them to two.

Give me a different variety of foods and drinks for a better price.

Impose a no cell phone area, blocking out the signal.

No one enters after the the movie starts. Of course, for me, that might mean having to pee in a bottle. oops, so much for a better experience. Looks like I might just have to continue watching my movies at home.

Drive-in Theatre says:

The “reinvented” theatre people need is an all time classic. The drive-in theatre. There’s one in my area ( that shows quality every night during the summer. It costs $20 per car (we’ve put 10 people in a small suv before) and you get 2 screen each showing 2 films. Most people stay in their car and listen from the radio, but I find that its best to bring folding chairs and sit outside where you can be social and talk to your friends without bothering anyone. The tickets are cheap (max $10 per person, only $2 if you stuff 10 people in the car), the snack are reasonably priced (or you can bring your own), you can be social, they have top-rate films, you can sneak in alcoholic beverages, you can smoke tobacco (certainly an added benefit for some), and its an all around great atmosphere. What’s not to like about that? I’m shocked that there aren’t more of these around. Certainly they have to deal with weather in New England, but in areas where there’s excellent weather 270 days a year they could be successful.

Anonymous Coward says:

A lot of theaters are filled with 14 year olds that can’t do anything else and just make going to the movies a pain because it’s a hang out. I drive up from Ft. Lauderdale to a muvico in Boca Raton for a better experience than those other places. You pick out an assigned seat ahead of time, get free valet parking and free bag of popcorn. I don’t consider it free at $18 a ticket, but if you compare it to other places it’s about the same. Since you need to be over 21, you can buy an overpriced beer to enjoy it in some oversized chairs. It makes seeing movies the when they premier a lot easier then wading through crowds of teens.

Anonymous Coward says:

I miss drive-ins. I live in a big city and there used to be three of em within 20 miles. Now none. Public comment is that they closed because they weren’t doing enough business, but really the problems were 1.) nasty bathrooms 2.) expensive snacks 3.) no security 4.) they were closed by 10pm (probably due to no security). They have to realize that a lot of their target audience is 16-25 and that’s a lot of waitresses/bartenders who don’t get out of work until 11pm on the weekends. How about an all night theater?

Todd Hudson says:

Try the NW Experience

In Oregon, the McMenamin Brothers have created a fabulous movie going experience! Food, beer, couches, sofas and loungers in wonderful old, formerly abandoned buildings like elementary schools, Masonic Halls, town libraries and railroad stations. Check it out at

And Cinetopia in Vancouver, WA,, offers super high-def digital projection with plush seating, great dining and over 100 different wines to choose from. Clearly, alcohol is a big draw in the NW.

Petréa Mitchell says:

Re: Try the NW Experience

Heck, it’s not just McMenamins– just about all the second-run theaters in the Portland area now are “pub theaters” where you can get real food (and soft drinks, juice, mineral water, etc. as well as beer) and sit comfortably while you watch a film.

If the first-run theaters can’t manage that, here are a couple other things to try:

  1. Accomodate intermissions. With more and more movies running over 2 hours, give your patrons a chance to visit the restroom… oh, and they can buy more snacks.
  2. TV commercials are annoying enough on TV… at full volume in a movie theater, they’re downright hostile. I agree with the earlier poster who said if we’re going to watch that many commercials, the movie should be free.
Phoenix says:


I think people [the ones designing the theaters] just need to start being more creative, instead of stickin with your basic design, show some ingenuity. Theyd be amazed to find the amount of increased customers by simply putting more thought and effort into the little intricacies of movie going. The high prices are simply the icing on the cake to an already degrading experience. Show me some more comfortable seating, instead of trying to pack us all in there like cattle, amen to all night theaters, and reserved seating would certainly be nice especially for large groups. These movie execs want us to go to their theaters, first they gotta show us they actually put a lil effort into making our experience better.

Digital Roar (user link) says:


They could start by not having commercials before a movie that I PAID them $10.00 to see… and they overcharge you by 500-1000% for popcorn. Did you know it costs about $20 for 50 pounds of unpopped corn? FIFTY POUNDS! And we have all seen how much a couple cups can make.
After doing a Google search found the proof:

Jordan says:


There was a theater that I used to frequent when I lived in Mississippi. This theater, instead of the standard stadium seating, had nice resturant style swivel chairs sitting behind tables. There were 2 seperate types of tables. Small ones that would fit 2 and larger ones that could fit between 4 and 6. There was a large snack bar that server everything from whole pizzas and hamburgers to cold glasses of beer. This theater had no first run movies, but was still always packed due to the unique experience.

Emily Hufschmidt (user link) says:

How to get people to go to the movies

When I lived in San Diego, my husband and I used to drive all the way down to Chula Vista to go to the Vogue Theatre, even tho they only played second run movies, because it had ice cold A/C all summer, it was always at LEAST a double feature, they had free refills on their large popcorn and fountain drinks and they had well-padded extra large loge seats which were so comfy we sometimes fell asleep in them. Also, they only cost$3.50 for the matinee plus an additional 50 cents for the loge seats. THOSE guys KNEW how to make us want to go to the movies!

Redmoon says:

Tables II

I remember that theater, at least one just like you describe. It was called “silver screen” and it was one of the coolest movie experiences around. We’d get a large group of people and go there. Like you said, swivel chairs and various sized tables. You got to move the tables/chairs around and decide where you wanted to sit. They also served alcohol and a pretty decent selection of eats. If memory serves it was pretty cheap to boot. Thanks for the memory!

Amerin says:

If you live near a Muvico...

Muvico, a mega plex theater compnay, I used to live in south florida, and they had several theaters, of like 20 or 14 screens, but some of the screens, were “premier” theaters, which translated to Couch like seats for two, you got to pick where you wanted to sit in the theaters when you purchased the tickets, they had food serivce, you could order food on your way in and when it was ready they would bring it out to you, they had an age limited over 21, showings, which ment you didnt have to go see a Friday night movie with dozen of tweens, and teens, yucking it up, and you could get a beer or a glass of wine, it was a nice DATE night out, the tickets were like $15 each, but We used to go all the time, it was worth the money for the enhanced experience, the theaters were decorated like theme parks, it was a feast on the eyes.

for showings of Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings, or any special new release, we took 1/2 days off at work, and went to the afternoon shows, and then went out for dinner.

We so wish they would build one here in NorthCarolina !

On vacation says:

Movies different from the states

Not too long ago I was on Vacation in Asia. I haven’t been to a movie theater to see a move in years, So I thoguht might as well give it a chance and see how its like. I was like holy shit the tickets were like $5 and so was the combo food, then i thought to my self the seats must be crap but it wasn’t it was nice lounge chairs where you could sit back and relax to watch the movies… After that movie for the rest of the week i went to see a couple more movies at different theaters and it was all the same.. long lines and a comfortable environment while watching the movie…

If the theatres here want more people to go see movies at least renovate the place and make the food better like people in the previous posts mentioned, also have a variety in the food as well.

litesabre says:

The Theater Experience

I used to enjoy going to movies. Then I got a big screen tv and a good surround system. The movie was much more enjoyable at home. I don’t have the equipment any more, but I’ve only seen one movie in two years at the theater. With the quality of home audio/video equipment, the theaters need to give you an experience that you can’t replicate at home. The theater near me now is brand new. The seats are extremely comfortable and you can put the arm rest up so you can snuggle up to your date. It was $6 each for a matinee, and $10 for two drinks and popcorn. The biggest problem I had with that experience was that I had to get up during the movie and go tell someone that they left the lights on when the movie started. It was 15 minutes into the thing before they got the lights turned down.

So I see the biggest issue with theaters today is quality. Yea, price is a problem too, but I wouldn’t mind paying it if the experience was worth it.

Mau (user link) says:

Sucky Theaters!

There are two theaters in Uptown Minneapolis: The Uptown and the Lagoon.

They are the worst theaters in town… Old, smelly, uncomfortable, yet they are as expensive (or more) as any AMC or else…without the comfort…

Sadly, they show very good movies most of the time… Indies, Limited Release, and what not. It is just a profound love/hate feeling… love the movie, hate the theater

Michael Urlocker (user link) says:

Disrupting the Movie Business

Some questions pop up to help get at the answer Cuban is looking for:

* What is the job that people are ‘hiring’ movies for when they go to the theater?

* What are barriers to the consumption of movies?

* Are there ways to eliminate or reduce some of these barriers?

* Are parts of the market overshot?

* Is there a simpler, lower-cost approach that appeals to a neglected or underserved market segment?

The first two questions are relatively straightforward and I will take a quick crack at them.…

The other three questions are at the heart of the issue and I will attempt to address them over time.

I am still thinking this through, but it might be interesting to look at the MobMov (Mobile Movies) movement of so-called guerilla drive-in theaters that started in California and is nowunderway worldwide, using simple technology to create a Do-It-Yourself drive-in.

This do-it-yourself drive-in has several hallmarks of disruptive innovation:

* Clear ‘job to be done:’ A fun night out at the drive-in with a community of friends;

* Consumers are doing it themselves by cobbling together a solution;

* Simple, low-cost technology;

* Improving technology (specifically projectors, the most espensive part of the system);

* Misunderstood by some, including municipal police in a few cases;

* Ignored by most of the mainstream industry (specifically electronics suppliers, movie theaters and movie makers.)


William C Bonner (profile) says:

Small Seats, High Prices

I’m six foot two, and generally not small. I like going to theaters, but spending $10 for a movie to sit in a packed theater with my knees against the seat in front of me and fighting for any armrest space is not my idea of a good time.

That means that I avoid any movie on opening weekend.

I’ve got the 55 inch wide screen tv at home with 7.1 digital surround, so I go to movies for a time away from home in a crowd setting. It’s still supposed to be enjoyable.

Dave Levinson (user link) says:

Times are a changin'

I recall lines wrapped around the theatre waiting to pay $1 to see Jaws and Star Wars, and not being able to get in. These movies were the talk of the town and you could only see them in one place. What’s changed? Media became a commidity, the death of creativity, a cold and rude society emerged, a hundred dollar price tag to take the family and the introduction of commercials before the previews. Yay!

R-Bro says:

Yep, movies suck

Not to beat a dead horse, here, but I agree with most of what’s been said. Movies are way overpriced, and food and drinks are way, way, WAY overpriced! And I hate not only the commercials that no precede every movie, but also the ridiculously overlong spoilers–sorry, trailers. My wife and I used to go to the movies almost every weekend. Now we go a few times every year, and it’s almost always disappointing. (The movies themselves mostly suck, too). TV is the best entertainment value by far!

Pete Butler (user link) says:

Become a part of the neighborhod (and serve beer a

The most popular theater in my neck of the woods (Oakland, CA) is the Parkway. They ripped out most of the movie seats, put in couches, chairs and tables, and they sell good food (mmmm… pizza) and good beer and wine. They aren’t a first-run theater, and it doesn’t make any difference; the place is packed. Tickets are $5.

They do some community-oriented events, like movie benefits, and a local guy has a regular gig where they show cheesy old movies. Monday nights parents can bring their infants to the movie for free and know that nobody will complain.

What I like about this place is the fact that it feels like part of the neighborhood. I see people I know there, and because of the relaxed atmosphere, I get to talk to them. The experience is always different, but always interesting.

Big theater chains have to play the “bigger, better, more impressive” game to compete with each other, and that will always be a losing strategy in the long run–“Impressive” wears off pretty quickly.

Small neighborhood theaters may not make a ton of money (I know the Parkway doesn’t) but big chains will never beat the experience.

Oh yeah… and sell beer.

Dosquatch says:

Are you listening, industry?

We are your customers. We have the money in our pockets that you are so loudly wailing that we are not spending. And, if you’ll take note, we’re telling you what would part us with our funds.

You equivocate on whether the movie is the product or the experience is the product, depending on which sounds better in your argument of the moment. The experience should be your product, as if it’s just the movie I can wait 6 months, rent it, and my whole family can see it for $3 in the comfort of my living room, an experience I can promise you is far more pleasant than going to the theatre. Because, frankly, the experience in the theatre sucks.

The very first part of the experience is the price at the ticket booth. You want to sell a group of five for $60 what could be had, as I said above, for $3. You need to offer something significant to be worth that difference, and right now, you don’t. Sure, it’s a huge screen, and yes, that is worth something, but not $57.

The next part of the experience is the snack bar. You’ve trained us well, me included. I like to have popcorn with my movie. And of course, popcorn wants a drink. Here I lose another $60. So the tab for going to the theatre is $120, plus the gas to get there, which is neglible. Which is saying something, mind you, considering the price of gas. To be fair, the food in my fridge at home isn’t free, and I have to burn the gas to get to the movie rental store. I’ll round WAY up and say the at home tab is $12.

That’s a ten-fold premium to come to your establishment before I ever get to my seat. So let’s talk about those seats.

$120 buys me all the comfort and elbow room of a coach airline flight. I have people kicking the back of my chair. I have to listen to people talking on cel phones. I have to figure out how to tuck my ankles into my armpits because somebody wants to get by to use the restroom. And, oh God… my feet are stuck to the floor.

$12 buys me a seat in an overstuffed recliner in a room with a clean floor, no cel phones, and clear paths to a restroom that requires nobody to be a contortionist.

At home, I can skip the commercials for Coke and Vonage (trailers I actually kinda like). At home, I can pause if I need to use the restroom. At home, I can watch the movie a second or third time for the same price. At home, I can have a steak dinner with my movie and still not have paid as much as going to the theatre and eating popcorn.

But, hey, that screen sure is big, isn’t it?

You want more people parting with their money? Here are the issues you need to address.

1) You charge too much for both tickets and food. Someone above suggested that a ticket from a previous viewing could then serve as a coupon for a current viewing – I think this is a brilliant idea. And $8 for 5 cents worth of popcorn is just criminal.

2) The environment sucks. It’s dirty and cramped. For some reason, you no longer throw out disruptive patrons. For some reason, even with the mugger’s prices on tickets, you think I want to be assulted with the same crappy commercials I see on TV at home. Stop it.

3) You aren’t selling an “experience” unless I’m to believe that being herded like cattle is an experience worth paying for. Line up, sit down, watch the blinking lights, get the hell lost. Sell me an experience I want. A movie poster to take home. A lounge where people can sit and discuss the movie they just saw (assuming people watch a movie with content worth discussing – the latest Segal flying fist fest need not apply). OR, and I’ll make this its own sub-point:

3a) stop opposing day-and-date releases. Or, rather, get exclusive day-and-date release rights, and give me the option of buying on DVD the movie I just watched. I love this idea. (wish I could take credit for it)

There you have it. My 2 cents, anyway (marked up to $5 for industry executives). And every other word written in this thread. We are your customers. At least, we want to be.

You do want us as customers, right? So, are you listening?

KevinG79 (profile) says:


Theatre owners and the MPAA whining about why no one goes to the movies??? Come on, it’s SO OBVIOUS. It’s TOO DAMN EXPENSIVE. Bring the ticket price down to $4 and don’t charge me $20 for two sodas and a large popcorn, and maybe I’ll come back to the theatre more than once every 2 years.

The theatres are just as bad as big oil. The gouging is just totally insane and uncalled for.

Anthony says:

Stop Showing Crap

I realize that theatre owners have no control over what Hollywood produces, but the simple fact of the matter is that the vast, vast majority of material that comes out of Hollywood is crap. Paying the premium rates we do for the privilege of watching crap doesn’t help either. In any case, here are some suggestions:

Hollywoods needs to funnel a lot of the money they spend on SFX into good writers instead.

Stop paying obscene amounts of money for ‘stars’ and instead pay fair rates to talented actors.

Make the movie last as long as it needs to, not aim for an 80-90 minute ‘feature’ so you can cram more showings into a day. (Imagine the results of the LotR trilogy if New Line forced Peter Jackson to fit each episode into 90 minutes!)

Anonymous Coward says:

In SW Mo. we have 4 theaters with in driving distance. less than 1 hour. It’s 7 bucks regardless, just for a ticket, 4 bucks for a larg pop and 6 buck for a large pop corn… the biggest problem is lack of space in the seats, yeah there comfy, but if the person infront of you leans back, you loose your leg room, there is no incentive to stay there after the movie, like a resturant, you pretty much have two options: leave or get kicked out. there is an arcade but you can only use it before you watch the movie, and after a late movie, remember this place is like the edge of the world, the only places to grab a bite to eat are drive-throughs, or IHOP/Waffle house, and there packed 24/7. when we go to the movies it’s when we don’t want to hang out a somebodies house, (or been kicked out for the night) A major improvement would be give us someplace there where we can go, talk about the movie, hang out and enjoy ourselves, thats part of the movie, oh and make it a nobody under 18 kinda place, haveing a six yearold tell you that it was the greatest movie of all time… even though it was a classic hollywood dissapointing ending really ruined it, half the fun is being a critic.

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