Good news, movie buffs in Center City and nearby areas — you won’t have to go to a parking lot far, far away to be able to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in a posh theater augmented by the latest in laser projection and digital sound.
Nor will you have to go to suburban tundra to see Frozen 2 and hear Idina Menzel sing "Into the Unknown” over 64 individual Dolby speakers that hurl hundreds of bits of digital audio info at each viewer.
Starting Monday, you’ll be able to see most of the holiday season’s blockbuster features while immersed in state-of-the-art exhibition technology (and possibly also beer and chicken flatbread pizza), at the new AMC Dine In Fashion District 8, hovering over the corner of 11th and Market Streets, up on the third level, two flights up from the Yards kiosk, three flights up from a Chick-fil-A.
The eight auditoriums will be cozy, ranging in size from 100 seats to 200. The two largest spaces are outfitted with premium Dolby technology (Dolby Cinema at AMC is armed with the laser projection and Dolby sound, similar to AMC’s operation in Neshaminy) and the slightly less expensive Prime at AMC, which offers standard projection and Dolby sound. Both options offer the built-in sound transducers in the seats (which are also heated) to give you that rumbling bass during appropriate moments.
All auditoriums will offer the latest in AMC amenities — such as the fully reclining seats. There is a kitchen cooking up a menu of food that you can order as you enter the theater, and which will be served to you “by the time the trailers are over,” said Ryan Noonan, AMC spokesperson.
In addition to classic movie concessions, there is also a MacGuffins bar, serving alcoholic beverages from beer and wine to specialty cocktails paired with feature films. Downton Abbey fans, for instance, could order a Crawley Collins, made with Aviation American Gin, lime sour, ginger ale, and soda.
At close to $15 a pop for a Crawley Collins (beer and wine are typically less than $10), don’t expect people to be sloshed. Noonan said AMC data show the average patron who consumes an adult beverage does so at a 1.1-drinks-per-show clip.
Even if you overindulge, you should have no trouble finding your seat. The auditoriums are not cavernous, reflecting modern trends in the exhibition business.
"The days of the 500- to 600-seat theater are in the past,” said Noonan, who said the bigger reclining seats (in the stadium style array) take up more space, meaning fewer seats per house. “We have done this over and over and over again, whether we’re building a new theater or doing renovations, and what we’ve found is that even though we have fewer seats, we have more people coming out because the experience is so much better.”
You can also reserve a seat by booking online through AMC’s website. Mobile device applications offer ticketless entry, so you just flash your downloaded ticket on a mobile device as you arrive.
Most high-tech blockbusters these days (upcoming examples are Terminator: Dark Fate, Frozen 2, and Rise of Skywalker) are engineered to maximize the effects of the kind of Dolby technology available at the Fashion District site, said Pascal Sijen, senior director, Dolby Cinema. (Terminator: Dark Fate will play on multiple screens including the new Dolby at the new AMC on Monday, along with Harriet, Black and Blue and other titles.)
It’s a little pricey. Standard movie tickets run about $13, the high end Dolby is $18, and AMC Prime is $16.
Still, AMC data show there is a sizable audience of superfans that like to geek out on the technology, hip to the fact that many contemporary filmmakers work hard to take advantage of the Dolby system — not just special effects blockbusters, but musicals like A Star is Born, whose director, Bradley Cooper, collaborated with Dolby to get the right sound.
The AMC Dine In arrives just in time to handle some of the biggest holiday releases. It’s auspicious timing for AMC, which is opening the Fashion District 8 just as it jumps into the streaming business, going head to head with Netflix and others.
The company announced last week that it is offering subscription streaming of movies — AMC Theaters on Demand — to the 20 million members of its AMC Stubs subscriber base. (There are three membership tiers, up to $25 a month. The lowest tier is free; you supply an email to gain access to the streaming menu.)
The idea is to provide subscribers a comprehensive array of movie-going options, all under the AMC banner, and link those options to loyalty and rewards programs that incentivize customers to stick with the AMC brand.
AMC already has streaming distribution agreements with all of the major studios, and offers 2,000 titles. Noonan said the company believes that preference data collected from users will enable it to offer better service — a family that’s seen The Lion King multiple times (AMC sold six million tickets to the film) will be notified the day digital versions are available. Analysts speculate that AMC will eventually couple the purchase of a theater ticket with a digital copy of the film upon streaming release.
The move also diversifies revenue – the chain will be less vulnerable to ups and downs of theatrical revenue, which is tied to fickle audience response. The box office is down 5% this year, said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst with Comscore, and for most chains, the year-to-year “comps are bad.”
“In that context, I think that AMC investment in brick and mortar in Philadelphia and in other cities shows a lot of confidence in the traditional theatrical model,” he said.