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Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Annals of Luxury: AMC, Loews, Regal, and Cinemark Are the New Status Brands

Movies may be the next category to make the leap to luxury status. And cinema chains are doing all they can to make that happen.

Movie theaters are doing better than ever, even in these recessionary times.

What recession? Cinema owners
are dancing all the way to the bank!
It's not that more people are going to see films – attendance has hovered in the 1.4-1.5 billion admissions range since 1998 – it's that they're paying more for them.

A movie ticket went for as much as $16.50 at some New York theaters, enabling the domestic boxoffice to reach $10.6 billion last year, up from $9.6 billion in 2008.

Filmgoers are going to see even higher prices, if cinema owners have their way.

Taking advantage of the unprecedented popularity of the 3D hits Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, exhibitors are imposing more price hikes to coincide with the opening this week of How to Train Your Dragon, another 3D animated divertissement.

The Wall St. Journal reported that an AMC theater outside of Boston raised its prices more than 20% to $17.50 from $14.50 a week earlier. A Seattle multiplex is now charging $11 for conventional films – up from $10 – and $15 for a 3D film, up from $13.50.

The price of a 3D Imax showing of Dragon jumped dramatically to $19.50 from an already not-exactly-a-bargain $16.50 at New York's AMC Loews Kips Bay.

None of this takes into account the cost of city center parking, babysitters, or popcorn – which, with 1,200 calorie and 60 grams of saturated fat for a large tub, isn't good for you.*

But wait! Exhibitors have come up with an even more effective means of separating you from your money.

Movie theaters offering gourmet food and at-your-seat service are springing up in Pasadena, Calif, the aspirational Buckhead section of Atlanta, Kansas City, and elsewhere across the nation.

These so-called "dine-in" cinemas offer full bars and meals prepared in on-site kitchens by trained chefs, a far cry from the high school kids who sling hot dogs at concession counters.

At the Gold Class Cinemas in Pasadena, the "seasonal" menu ranges from blue cheese potato chips and wagyu beef burgers to portabello sliders and house made beignets for dessert.

(Of course while you, beloved readers, know what a beignet is, how many regular filmgoers can describe one? And surely they mean American crossbred with Angus Wagyu beef, not the authentic, milder Japanese Wagyu. But we digress.)

Gold Class also features a cocktail of the month. Currently it's a Ginger Collins, consisting of Bombay Sapphire Gin and something called Canton Ginger Liqueur, plus strawberries and sour mix. (We're not making this up, we assure you.)

Dinner for two plus drinks, tax and tip costs around $75 and does not include tickets, which for How to Train Your Dragon are $22 or $29 each.

And you didn't believe us when we said that going to the movies is now a luxury item?

*According to The Center for Science in the Public Interest. Their recent study showed that the coconut oil used by Regal Cinemas, the nation's largest chain, and AMC Cinemas resulted in extremely high levels of saturated fat in popcorn. By contrast the non-hydrogenated canola oil used by Cinemark reduced calories by about 25% and saturated fat by a much healthier 90% per large tub.

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