Moviegoers who were excited by cupholders, tiered stadium seating and rocking seats might want to brace themselves.
The latest innovation in movie theater construction, unveiled at the AMC Maple Ridge 8 in Amherst in mid-August, offers patrons almost all the comforts of home in paired seats that recline fully.
But it isn’t just the chairs’ position that’s different. Because the recliners are so much bigger than regular seats and fewer of them are installed in each auditorium, seats are reserved in advance. An usher will meet you at the end of the entrance corridor, check your tickets and show you to your seat.
The two innovations – recliners and assigned seats – go together for AMC, said Ryan Noonan, director of public relations for AMC.
“Every theater we renovate like this has reserved seating,” said Noonan in an email from the company’s office in Kansas City. “Due to popularity, we see a sharp rise in attendance, which leads to fewer seats being available. Reserved seating gives guests the confidence that they’ll have a ticket, and their seat, before they walk into a crowded auditorium.”
Seats are reserved online through Fandango, which allows patrons to buy nine seats per transaction and gives them 7 minutes to complete the purchase, which must be paid for with Visa, American Express, MasterCard, Discover, a gift card or PayPal. Patrons who don’t belong to the AMC rewards program (which costs $12 a year and offers various perks, including food and drink upgrades) will pay a $1.25 “convenience fee” per ticket.
People who decide to catch a movie on the spur of the moment or who don’t have Internet access can still walk up to the box office and pick out seats. On a recent Wednesday at 1:45 p.m., 15 seats had been reserved in the 132-seat theater showing “Gravity.” The seven other shows scheduled to start between 3 and 10:15 p.m. Wednesday showed six reserved seats at 1:45 p.m.
The situation appears far different on weekends. On a Saturday, the late showings of “Gravity” and the comedy “Baggage Claim” were sold out 15 minutes before show time.
Some online reviewers have complained about the time it takes to pick out and buy seats at the box office, with staffers displaying a screen that shows which seats remain.
The Maple Ridge 8, which is the only AMC theater in the region, is one of about 25 in the chain to be renovated in the past two years with the new red leatherette recliners, which Noonan said “are designed to bring the comfort of your living room into the theatre.”
The fact that theaters are now innovating to make the moviegoing experience as comfortable as what people have in their own homes is an unusual twist for an industry that for decades delivered a film-watching experience that could not be equaled in a home theater. A number of factors, including poorly received films, increased ticket prices and viewers’ comfortable home theaters, led to a decline in ticket sales from 1.5 billion in 2002 to 1.28 billion in 2011. Last year’s numbers rose to 1.36 billion, spurred, analysts say, by popular films like “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Hunger Games.”
Reservations and more
In theaters without reserved seating, moviegoers must arrive early enough to wait in line at the box office and refreshment stand so they are in the auditorium in time to get good seats. That leaves early arrivals watching a seemingly endless parade of featurettes, commercials and high-volume coming attractions.
“When a movie just opens, we are rushing to get there 45 minutes early, to get tickets and our seats,” said Bethany Mazur of Snyder. But with the reserved seats, “this is really nice, because we can go two hours ahead of time, buy our tickets and reserve our seats and then go have a relaxing dinner and not waste 45 minutes sitting there watching previews. And if you buy your tickets online, you don’t even have to go to the theater to buy them.”
The downside of reserving a specific seat is that if the theater is full, you are locked into that seat, without the flexibility of moving if rambunctious children, loud talkers or somebody with questionable personal hygiene sits next to you. But Mazur points out that even if you are seated next to a stranger, you still have more room than you would in a standard theater row. “Even if you do end up next to somebody who is kind of weird, you still have a foot or so of space between you, unlike a regular theater, where you are right on top of the person in the next seat,” she said.
Many entertainment venues, including live theater and the orchestra, also have assigned seats, but the generally understood and usher-enforced behavior standards at those events are higher than at movies, where talking, taking phone calls and texting continues to be an issue.
If a moviegoer is disturbing others, Noonan recommended that other patrons alert a staff member. “We do have ushers who monitor the auditoriums, but they are not always present when guests are disturbing others,” he said. “If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, we strongly encourage guests to speak with an AMC manager or crew member, who will assess and handle the situation appropriately. In addition, a manager or crew member will gladly change your seat provided seats are still available in the auditorium.”
‘Looking there first’
Noonan said that in the new recliner auditoriums, even a tall person or one who chooses not to recline should not obstruct the view of a patron behind them. “We’ve installed risers to give auditoriums the popular stadium-style feel, and to help ensure that guests sitting in the back row have a perfect, unobstructed view of the movie screen, even if moviegoers in front of them are not reclining,” he said.
Because the rows are shorter, with just eight pairs of recliners in the widest aisle, fewer people pass in front of seats during a show. Tall people whose feet hang off of the recliner may have to pull their feet in so others may pass. But patrons walking by the foot of their recliners was not a problem for Mazur or her husband, Mike. “There is still so much room in front of the seat that it didn’t even bother me,” she said.
Mazur said she had not seen a movie at the Maple Ridge 8 for about 10 years before the conversion. “It was gross, I didn’t like it,” she said of the theater, which had become outdated and worn. “I was just waiting for it to go out of business. But now that they have these great seats, we’re looking there first before we look at other places.” And she’s not alone. “We went on Monday night,” she said, “and we had to park in the last spot in the parking lot.”
“The enhancements we’ve done at AMC Maple Ridge are re-engaging guests and bringing them back to the theater in numbers we haven’t seen before at this location,” said Noonan. “Guests are not only coming more often, we’re also seeing guests who haven’t been to the movies in a while coming out to give them a try.”
Although ticket prices vary by the time and day of the show, for now they are about the same as neighboring theaters without recliners. That may change, said Noonan. “In some cases, the increase in popularity along with the decrease in seating capacity can dictate a pricing adjustment, simply based on supply and demand.”