Why Small Theaters Sometimes Offer a Better Movie Experience
There are two very different movie going experiences available when you decide to go out at night, depending on where you live. There’s the larger chains of theaters; your AMCs, Cinemarks, Showcases, Regal Entertainment Group theaters, as well as thousands of mid-level theater franchises. These are good if you’re looking for something convenient with a show time every half hour, because there are so many theaters and seats it’s easy to provide more options. They also have the advantage of sometimes being cheaper than smaller, more local movie theaters, and if you’re looking for first-run showings of the latest blockbuster, you’re less likely to find the theater sold out if you go somewhere with multiple showings at once. For that reason, major releases, like Star Wars or the new Jurassic World are often better at larger theaters, particularly when those theaters have a crowd of excited or celebrating fans to add to the experience in a positive way.
On top of that, sometimes the larger theaters are a better choice when one wants to see a film that really needs to be seen in 3-d and at full volume in a large theater. In those cases, it’s smarter to go for a giant IMAX theater than a smaller theater with 3-d capabilities. It’ll cost you a fortune in popcorn and watered down soda, but if you’re stupid enough to buy snacks at the concession stand instead of sneaking them in, that’s on you. However barring these specific circumstances, revival theaters and smaller local theaters have major advantages over big first run theater chains in almost all other ways.
First off, smaller local theaters have a very basic stylistic advantage over the more surgical, clean cut, modern, but cookie cutter theaters. Going to IMAX is impressive, but they all have the same sort of antiseptic feel to them, like that fifty dollar popcorn was synthesized in a lab and the fifteen year old taking your ticket might have been a test tube baby back at the company headquarters. Revival theaters and local theaters tend to have a more homey quality to them. Often they are a local landmark, and sometimes what they lack in 3-d options they make up for in spades when it comes to history and beautiful decor — velvet seating, high ceilings, etc.. They also usually have more deals on tickets, making it easier to catch a cheap show at odd times, or if you’re on a budget, some put on a free movie night.
Local theaters also are more likely to host other events, whether that’s a showing of local sports games, or use of the theater for a local event being put on. Smaller theaters also usually have a greater variety of movies and offer more cult classics and humorous B-movie type films — that isn’t to say that larger theaters never show older films, sometimes they do, but it’s more rarely and with far less variety.
Finally, we get to the food and/or liquor. This is a big one. The options at smaller theaters tend to be better, or at the very least, offer more variety. Some theaters will have local baked goods, a wider variety of candy, or different creative popcorn toppings. Some serve entire meals that can be eaten in the theater like at a restaurant, and certain smaller theaters around the country have taken to serving alcohol so you can watch Alien Vs. Predator and drink a beer at the same time. It’s not that this hasn’t made its way into some nationwide chains; it has. Cinebarre has adopted this strategy and has branches in South Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and North Carolina.
This is both an example of where chains are reinventing themselves to create the qualities that make smaller theaters so desirable, and an example of where they fail to make a truly passable reproduction. For one thing, Cinebarre definitely falls into the category of the antiseptic theater, and though the menus are somewhat quirky and fun, the options lack a local twist in many cases — for example the signature quirky drinks are similar no matter where you are. The nice thing about smaller theaters is that there is more room for customization and keeping a menu lose and fresh. Cinebarre also only plays first-run films, rather than doing retro or cult films. That being said, it does offer some of the advantages of other smaller theaters, including a wider variety of eating options and a drink with your movie. But when it comes down to it, not only is it better to support local businesses, but local and smaller tend to better at bringing a more unique and un-manufactured theater experience.
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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @CSAntheaM