To Lure Moviegoers, AMC Theaters Installs Recliners

Photograph by Rich Legg/Getty Images

Watching a movie in a theater used to be a treat, what with screens the size of your living room, sound booming at you from all sides, and buckets of popcorn drenched in butter-like chemicals that, presumably, you didn’t have access to at home. (Sure, at-home theater systems have existed for some time, but unless you were a rich movie geek, you probably didn’t have one.) But then along came 70-inch plasmas and on-demand services and Netflix—and, well, movie theaters increasingly found some stiff competition.

In an effort to entice movie fans out of their cradles of comfort, AMC Theaters announced it’s experimenting with a new tactic: mimicking the home-viewing experience. The chain is renovating select locations across the country and installing luxuriously large recliners and seats you can reserve ahead of time so you’re not stuck in the first row. “During the next two to three years, we anticipate that nearly half of our circuit will have received some kind of renovation,” says AMC spokesperson Ryan Noonan. (Others have observed that these new seats may be a hit among couples and teens.)

The upgrade arrives at a time when ticket sales across the industry continue to slide. Last year, movie theaters sold 1.3 billion tickets, which is better than 2011 but less than the 1.5 billion they were selling a decade ago. To make up for fewer moviegoers, ticket prices have risen by a third over the past decade. On average, they are now about $8 across the country. In some cities—and for higher-priced 3D movies—they’re close to $20.

AMC isn’t the first to try to create a more sumptuous experience. In fact, other theater chains have had reclining seats for years. The smaller, Southern California-based ArcLight Cinemas is one of them. It also has reserved seating and full-service cafés and bars. In some ways, AMC is even copying itself; in 2010, it launched several so-called Dine-In Theaters that paired reclining seats with a full-service casual restaurant. But the Dine-In ticket could run as much as $25 a film, while AMC’s more recent renovations reportedly won’t lead to higher prices. They will allow children, though, which Dine-Ins don’t.

Wait, no kids and a waiter who’ll deliver popcorn directly to my butter-soaked hands? Come to think of it, $25 sounds like a steal.

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