Mid-Week Poll: Premium Movie Theaters

As if movie tickets weren’t expensive enough these days, many theaters now offer premium screens or services for an additional upcharge fee. From 3D to IMAX to full dinner menus, the idea is to entice you with the promise of an improved theatrical experience. How many of these services have you used?

The local Showcase theater near me has a “Cinema De Lux” option on a few screens, which offers reserved seating, comfy chairs, and dining service. Best of all, the Lux Level section is exclusively 21+, so there are no crying babies or obnoxious teens to disrupt the movie. Naturally, tickets for this are more expensive (and you obviously have to pay for the food as well). I wouldn’t do this for every movie, but Mrs. Z and I find it worth the expense for the occasional “event” picture. (We saw ‘The Avengers’ at the Cinema De Lux on opening weekend.) AMC has a similar option called “Cinema Suites,” and I’m sure that other theater chains have their own variations.

My area also has several IMAX theaters, and the nearby Regal multiplex has an “RPX” screen (Regal’s attempt to mimic IMAX). Of course, 3D is everywhere as well.

Do you shell out the money for these premium services, and have you found them worthwhile? Vote for as many options as you’d like.

Which Premium Movie Theater Options Have You Used?

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  1. Alex

    I’ve gone to an IMAX flick (I Am Legend) and I’ve done 3D (Avatar), but honestly, I don’t have any desire to do it again. I might spring for IMAX for Dark Knight Rises, but that’s a maybe.

    Honestly, what gets me into a theater is the general feeling. I have my favorite theaters, but they don’t have the amenities. They have comfortable seats, clean sound systems at a reasonable volume, good projectors and screens, and reasonable pricing. My favorite theater is one that’s been around since 1928. It has landmark status, beautiful gilded and carved ceilings and statues, an organist playing prelude music, and a little dude who stands outside after the movie and hands out mints as you’re leaving. It also has a digital projector and an HPS4000 sound system. And it’s $4/show.

  2. I go to IMAX and 3D (both IMAX and Real3D) all the time. However, I would pay even more for a theater that didn’t let anyone under 21 in. 🙂

  3. Drew

    All of the above! Plus cinemark’s attempt to copy IMAX. It’s called XD.

    I try to see any big event picture in true IMAX. Digital IMAX is typically my choice for second-tier event films. I’m a big advocate of 3D for films that were rendered, from the ground up using 3D equipment, and with 3D in mind. The ‘Wrath of the Titans’ type 3D films should never be released in the format!

    Suites with large comfortable chairs, and “fine dining” are merely an attempt to copy home theatre. I find this type of movie going nigh offensive. I’ll stay home and watch a film my HT if I want to do it in that fashion. I go to the theatre for the THEATRE EXPERIENCE, not the HOME THEATRE EXPERIENCE. I’ve tried a few different really high-end suites, even one from a local establishment that blows any chain out of the water, and they all come across the same way – trying to give you the home feel, but not coming close to doing so. It’s a gimmick that needs to die, fast!

    • We have an XD theater here (and will soon have a second) and I think they pale in comparison to IMAX. As far as I can tell, it’s just a slightly bigger screen than the normal size at Cinemark, with the same picture/audio quality as all the others – just nicer seats.

  4. Superman

    I’ve gone to both 3D showings of movies and IMAX showings. I feel personally that 3D has not impressed me enough for me to keep paying more. IMAX however takes the cake! If it weren’t a 2 hour drive I would see more movies in IMAX. I attempt to go to them whenever a movie has ACTUAL IMAX footage in it because then I feel like I’m getting even more for my money, but just seeing a normal movie blown to those proportions with that sound is something that my home theater will never be able to replicate.

    Over the past couple years the movies I’ve seen in IMAX are – Inception, Star Trek, The Dark Knight, I Am Legend, Harry Potter… 5? I think, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Superman Returns and The Polar Express. I never felt like the extra ticket charges weren’t worth it (although Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came close). I wish I was able to see Batman Begins and MI:Ghost Protocol in IMAX but the planets didn’t align on those.

    The LieMax trend is also infuriating and I think completely waters down the brand.

    • William Henley

      Agreed. I think the only theater chain that actually shows FILM Imax footage is Cinemark – all the others are Digital Imax, which is no better than XD or Xtream. My closest one used to be about 45 minutes away, but everything is under construction now, so now it takes about 90 minutes to get there. I think the last movie I saw there was Harry Potter 6.

  5. Barsoom Bob

    Haven’t really seen any deluxe suite options here in NYC but we are going to get an outpost of the Alamo chain of theaters from Austin here next year. They are taking over the old Metro Theater on Broadway up by the Columbia University campus.

    I have been to the Alamos in Austin several times, and surprisingly the food service does not ruin the experience and they do not charge any bump in admission fee that I am aware of. Besides being able to snack and kick back with a beer, if some one is talking rudely or blatantly texting, you just scribble a note about it and put it in front of you, where they pick up the food order forms, and that person receives swift advice to cut it out or they will be asked to leave.

    This is also a very creative chain in that they search out all sorts of wierd stuff to show you before the movie starts. I saw Inception there, so before the movie began, they showed the Dali dream sequence from Spellbound, the Cheap Trick video for Dream Police and some strange foreign trailer in the same vein. They are a fun bunch.

  6. NERV

    El Paso has a theater with XD but its not worth the extra cash. It’s like all they did is make the theater louder. Juarez Mexico has a theater with the dining service,comfy leather recliners, and waiters to bring you anything from sushi to alcoholic beverages at a very reasonable cost. Juarez is too dangerous now so I stopped going. I rarely go to the theater now. I wait for the blu ray to come out. I will however be making an exception for Prometheus.

  7. William Henley

    XD and Xtream are also IMAX competitors. My local Rave has an Xtream screen that they often also show 3D on. The thing is, they don’t show IMAX versions of the movie – its just the regular movie shown on a really big screen. The downside is that they use the same Christie projectors they use on the other screens. While I love Christie projectors, at the size they are projecting it, you tend to loose some brightness, at least from what I have seen. Maybe I am imagining it.

    We have Movie Taverns around here. Its a dining experience, but the theaters tend to be cheaper than other theaters around. That is, they then expect you to get in and buy their food. The one closest to me actually has $4 matinees.

    • William Henley

      I should also point out that I LOVE 3D stuff. Saw Titanic by myself, and as much as I loathe The Phantom Menace, I saw it as well. Sadly, there is too much crap-3D out there. Hated Last Airbender and HP7s 3D, but loved Captain America, Titanic, Three Musketeers, and several others. So I usually do pay the 3D upcharge.

  8. Jason

    With the exception of IMAX and the occasional 3D movie(It has to be filmed in 3D or CG animation for me to consider it) I won’t shell out the extra coin. I have a premium theater in my basement.

  9. Prayformojo

    Went to see the Avengers at the Carmike in Nashville and they offer The Big D (kinda like their version of IMAX). While the movie was amazing, I was shocked at the $28 tickets price for my son and I to go to the 11AM show. Outside of The Avengers, I can’t see paying that much to see movies on that screen on a regular basis.

  10. I don’t mind 3D, but I rarely ever find a movie I’m actually willing to spend $3 more on to see in 3D. The theater here in Berlin is only showing Avengers in 3D, so we have to choose that. Luckily it’s not crazy expensive.

    I’ve been to the Alamo Drafthouse (what Barsoom Bob was referring to) a number of times. They never charge more than what your typical theater does for tickets, but of course you can order food from the menu and get it served to you. This is where they make more of their money, and I think this concept might be more successful than the traditional concession stand. The menu has salads, pizza, burgers, and oftentimes a themed menu that will have something inspired by the film of the time (like, if you can imagine, snake for when Indiana Jones played).

    What the Drafthouse is truly great for is special events. We went to the Can’t Stop the Serenity show, which consisted of watching Dr. Horrible, then Serenity. But before the film there’s an auction for rare Firefly and Serenity merchandise, with proceeds going to charity. We also had a Q&A with Ron Glass, and he was quite a fun treat.

    The Drafthouse also shows free showings of popular TV shows like LOST, and they will have free showings of big sporting events like the Super Bowl. Again, you can choose to order from the menu, but it’s not a requirement. Sometimes they do sell what they call a $5 food credit, which essentially buys you a reserved seat, in case a large turnout is expected. This way they don’t charge you for seeing the show, but instead get some guaranteed business with food service.

    At every Drafthouse there’s something different every week. They’ll show old movies where people show up in costume, musicals where the audience can sing along, marathons of famous trilogies, and more.

    What’s also cool about seeing new releases is that the Drafthouse team takes the time to research the film and put together clips related to it, and those are shown before the movie. For example, before McGruber, they showed all SNL skits as well as some McGyver clips. For Zombieland, they showed a bunch of clips from crappy old zombie movies.

    I think the Drafthouse has something good going for them. You can simply go to the movie and pay the ticket price, or you can get some nice food options as well. Regardless of what you decide, there’s always something unique about the movie experience there (assuming you don’t arrive late).

    This was an amazing “No Texting” video they showed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L3eeC2lJZs

    They also had a pretty funny PSA with the Reno 911 cast: http://youtu.be/lnKHRSy_wkM

    Oh, and they also have showings where they make fun of movies, like the Notebook: http://youtu.be/INWosl9LpuE

    Okay, I’m done.

  11. Drew

    Cinemark is not the only theatre chain that screens true film IMAX presentations. Many other theatres screen IMAX film, not just digital IMAX. The independent ones are the best for screening true IMAX. Cinemark is actually moving away from IMAX altogether to focus on XD.

    • Yes, this is true. Our oldest Cinemark is the only one with an IMAX screen. The newer one we have has an XD screen, and the new one they’re building (less than 5 minutes from my house!) is also only going to have an XD screen. It’s also supposed to have self-serve concessions, so I’m waiting to see how that works, exactly.

      • William Henley

        Yeah, they are building one not too far from me. When it was announced, they said they were building an IMAX, but now it looks like its an XD. The point is, when Cinemark says IMAX, it is usually film-Imax. When AMC says IMAX, its usually Lie-Max.

        • Josh Zyber

          The only film-based IMAX theaters left are those with screens too large for digital projectors to illuminate sufficiently. Those will be converted to digital as soon as the company’s new laser projectors are ready. In the meantime, everything else has already converted to digital.

          This is based solely on screen size, not on theater chain.

          • William Henley

            That’s sad to hear. You pretty much would need a minimal of a 12k projector to even approach the clarity of Imax film.

          • William Henley

            BTW, that’s just a number I am just throwing out. I know that film really doesn’t convert to pixels, and I have heard numbers thrown out from 8k all the way to 24k from people saying what is needed to equal Imax film quality.

          • Yeah, that’s not really right. One, 12K doesn’t really exist, and people have tried before to compare Film to Digital, it’s not really the same thing.

            Film has characteristics that have to be recreated in the digital domain, you pretty much have to make your movie look the way you want in Post.

            IMAX films are generally more clear because if it’s a true IMAX theater the film is some of the biggest in use today, so it’s close (bigger?) then the granddaddy of them all 70MM film. This is why it looks so great, but Digital doesn’t have any of the problems that FILM has, once you print to film it starts degrading almost immediately. Back in the day when they had to do special affects the old fashioned way, the movie would degrade as they added such things.

            Digital has none of these issues, so you can composite a hundred different things into a scene and it will look as good as the hard work you put into it.

            But 12K, I’m betting if 8K projectors were around today, and you saw a film that was created using 8K or better cameras, you’d probably change your mind. And I’ll bet if you see Avatar 2 in 60FPS at an IMAX, well let’s just say I am waiting to buy that ticket.

            Resolution isn’t all there is to movies, and clarity is pretty much up to the beholder. Last month people were bashing Peter Jackson for 48 Frames and others were trying to compare what he’s doing to the cheap ass TV’s that do 120Hz or 240Hz true motion crap.

            People will always believe that what they see is exactly what everyone else sees, and some people can think the crappiest thing is gold etc.


          • I did see you made those same type of comments, but was an interesting comment and I love talking about FILM or DIGITAL Etc.


  12. I tend to frequent the Ultrascreens at Marcus Theatres, if its not filmed in IMAX, thats the biggest and best way to go I feel. The screen is ginormous and usually the sound and bass are kicked all the way up to 11. In fact when I saw the Avengers at midnight I saw it on the Ultrascreen, the next day I saw it again in a regular Marcus theatre and was disappointed by the flat, almost quiet, sound in the theatre, it really disappointed me. Other than that you’ve got to go for IMAX if its been filmed in it and I’m not a huge 3D fan but often spring for the extra price just because theres no other way for me to experience a movie in 3D.

  13. EM

    I chose 3D, IMAX, and “Other”.

    I’ve had good experiences with 3D, and I don’t mind paying for it if I think the movie and its use of 3D will be worth it.

    I’ve been to one IMAX showing. I wasn’t going for the IMAX experience; I went because, at the time, it was the only way to see Fantasia 2000. I haven’t been avoiding IMAX—there just aren’t any IMAX theaters in my vicinity.

    The “Other” I had in mind is live musical accompaniment of silent films. I feel blessed to have had the experience several times, and I look forward to more.

    D-Box seems interesting, but it’s not offered in my area. Movie dining is offered around here, but I can’t imagine wanting the distraction. As Drew might say, I can experience that at home anyway!

    • If you get the chance to see Dark Knight Rises in IMAX you won’t be sorry. Dark Knight had key sequences actually FILMED in IMAX format, and to say it was Jaw Dropping is playing it lightly.

      Pretty sure even more will be in IMAX this time, and I cannot wait.

      I really hope Nolan out does himself with this one, if he does it could be one amazing year for Super Hero films.

  14. If a movie I want to see is in IMAX, it’s pretty much a done deal. I generally (not always) find that the audience seeing a movie at IMAX is usually more into it and less apt to cause problems (talking, making noise etc).

    As for 3D, it’s hit or miss obviously, Avatar was amazing at the IMAX and I hope that they will be showing the Hobbit in 48 frames so I can see it there. IMAX is how theaters should be done, although I wish they would replace the seats with something a little more comfortable.

  15. Garry

    I haven’t found a theatre in my location that meets my standards which are simple:

    – Enforces a no texting/no cell rule
    – an audience that doesn’t treat the auditorium like it’s their living room.

    As for 3D, the one theatre I go to occasionally actually boosts the level on the lamp to compensate for the dimming effect of the polarizing filters.

    The theatre industry complaining times are tough obviously don’t have the balls to make going to their theatres an event. They can throw every “premium” feature in my face, but if going there is a dismal experience then its their own fault.

    • Yeah, I too am so sick of hearing about theaters having a hard time of it. Then seeing a movie like Avengers bring in $500 million +, all it takes is one movie and theater owners are set for a number of years.

      But the real problem is that unless it’s opening night on Avengers or some other big movie they just don’t seem to care about their customers any more. Ushers are basically just janitors who maybe might have a flashlight. They don’t stop people from making scenes, they are usually clueless when it comes to any type of problem that is happening until after it’s already ruined someones experience.

      And the thing that bothers me most is that their entire GOAL is just to make sure that the Visual and Audio presentation goes off without a hitch and a lot of the time they just can’t even get that done without screwing it up.

      Just recently I noticed that the volumes from theaters next door were so OVERLOUD that I could clearly hear the movies other than the one I was in. Do theater owners not even check this kind of stuff out?