Most companies can only dream of this kind of word-of-mouth marketing: “Best movie theater ever, ” Erica Austin, 24, said to her companion as they passed AMC Courthouse Plaza 8 recently, headed for the Metro. ¶ What sounds like hyperbole has echoed across the Twitterverse and Yelp since the Arlington movie house rolled out renovations in October. The upgrades include extravagantly oversize red chairs that transform into recliners with footrests at the touch of a button. There’s no need to elbow for armrest space, which is more than sufficient. And comfort gets a boost from convenience, especially for the notoriously tardy. Whether buying tickets online or in person, filmgoers select seats ahead of time, rendering needless early arrivals or sprawling jackets across a row for savesies. ¶ While multiplexes across the nation are beginning to unveil similar concepts, the Arlington theater is among the first in the Washington region to invite patrons to lie back and enjoy luxury amenities beyond the feature presentation. The effort seems to indicate that theaters are getting a crash course in marketing after decades of essentially relying on studios to attract customers.
The old business strategy may be endangered. After years of flagging ticket sales, 2012 delivered a much-needed bump, but the 1.3 billion tickets sold last year remains lower than nearly all of the past 15 years (the peak was 2002, with about 1.58 billion tickets sold). Ticket prices have surged to compensate, and sticker shock, paired with technology that makes it easy to watch a movie anywhere at any time, could mean trouble for cinemas. Some theaters appear to be waiting out the slump with fingers crossed for big blockbusters, but others are taking control of their destinies. And the first step is solving a recent predicament: how to get people in the door.
AMC’s strategy is working for D.C. resident Kyle Washington, 21, who rides the Metro from Columbia Heights to Arlington — making the dreaded L’Enfant Plaza Green-to-Orange Line switch — for this particular moviegoing experience. On a recent evening, he came to see “Django Unchained, ” but it wasn’t playing, so he bought a ticket for “Zero Dark Thirty” instead.
“I know it sounds ridiculous, ” he said of taking the train to Virginia for a movie he didn’t even intend to see. “I like the seating, the chairs, how it lays back, how you can pick your own seats. And they also have the ice machine, the slushy. I like slushies.”
Aside from icy, sugar-laden beverages, there have been noticeably few innovations in the history of movie theaters that weren’t dictated by the revolutionary advancements in filmmaking, such as sound, color and 3-D. For movie houses, the obvious upgrade in recent memory was stadium seating, which exploded in popularity in the late 1990s and has since become a mainstay of modern cineplexes, along with cup holders and chairs that are more comfortable.
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The AMC Courthouse Theater is located at 2150 Clarendon Boulevard Arlington, Virginia 22201. The phone number is (703) 243-4950.