Cinema Seating: Does It Matter?

Today I want to bring up an interesting topic that’s been on my mind for a long time, which is theatre seating. When one goes to the movies, what does one seem to traditionally expect? In my mind, I’m expecting to go somewhere with a bunch of people I didn’t particularly invite, but nevertheless still glad to have with me, and watch a movie with them. It could be good, it could be bad, but I still go for the experience of escaping my own world, and escaping into someone else’s world. Not to say I don’t entirely shut off my brain, I review the films I see and rate them. One thing I always I try to keep in my mind when I go to the movies is, how will I be able to fulfill my experience? In no particular order, I ask myself the following questions: Should I see the movie in 2D? 3D? IMAX? IMAX 3D? What time should I see the movie? What day should I see the movie? Which location should I go to in order to watch the movie? These are questions I always keep in mind, and I usually keep these in mind because it’s inevitable that almost every time I go see I movie, I’m the one choosing the theater. One other question I ask myself is this: “What kind of seats should the theater have?” This is a fundamental concept I take into advantage and thought about during multiple trips. Today I’m going to talk about the concept and dig deep into it. Let’s start with reclined seating.

Since the early 2010’s, the big trend most movie theaters have had is installing recliners inside cinemas as seats, in order to see a movie. When I first found out about this, I thought it would be interesting, and it might add relaxation towards the experience. In fact on my first time attending one of these reclining seat theatres, I was unaware of what I was getting into. I was heading to the AMC Burlington 10 cinema, which according to Cinema Treasures, opened in 1994 with standard seating, and it’s the kind where you go down the aisle so it wasn’t stadium seating. I was going to see “Divergent” with my mother, we got the tickets, our refreshments, and unfortunately our soda wasn’t even in an actual cup, but little did we know that the place was going under renovation. We were walking into theater 3, it was kind of scary walking in because it seemed that the walls were too dark and it kind made the floor uneven with it, therefore reminding me of a haunted house. I didn’t think that was normal because the time prior to this one at this theater (July 2011), it looked a bit different. Then we see the auditorium itself, mom and I were in shock. We sat down on these leather chairs and start reclining, we loved it. The only con I could give towards that experience is that I overheard construction outside while watching the movie. That’s unlikely to happen now that renovation ended but still, it was a minor point. This was going to inevitably become a big thing. Interestingly enough, there was another movie theater nearby that was replacing its older seats with recliners. The location in particular is Showcase Cinemas Woburn. Before going to see “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” which in my opinion was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie, I knew that they were putting recliners in this theater. Besides my sister’s friends who were coming with us to the movie, I was probably the only one out of everyone in the group who was aware this theater had reclining seats. I was going into the theater, and I saw the capacity, I felt completely ripped off. I saw a capacity of 48, which I actually now know is not true, because I went to the same theatre to see “Joy” (I didn’t want to see it there specifically, but it was only for timing purposes), I actually checked each theatre one by one, and none of them had that capacity. The auditorium I was in either had a capacity of 40 or 28. THAT’S SMALL! By the way, the biggest auditorium they have at that theatre is a capacity of 146. That’s not a bad capacity in the least bit, but when it came to around 3/4 of the facility’s auditoriums, I wonder if they should have double checked their brains. The experience was just as terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad (haha) as the movie, and the front of the theatre no longer had the amazing neon sign that had the “Wizard of Oz” castle and King Kong on it, so that was another disappointment, which I can’t remember if I found out immediately but was still utterly disappointing. When I left the theater, I said this: “I’m just excited to see Interstellar tomorrow.” Turns out my excitement was fulfilled. I went down with my aunt to Providence, RI, which had the nearest IMAX with 70mm equipment, and it was one of the best movie experiences of my life. For every positive there’s a negative. In case you’ve been living under a rock, most teens don’t like going to the movies. They would rather sit at home, watch Netflix, and check their phone. I can understand that someone may feel this way, although I don’t agree with them, because I collect hard copies and go to the theatre. I do although have a feeling that despite its flaws, reclined seating will make teens want to go to the movies more often. The only thing I hope won’t happen from them though, is constant use of their phone throughout the movie. If it’s an emergency I get it, but don’t go hardcore with it. The next trend I’m going to discuss has been around for a longer time, but just like AMC has been doing with reclined seating, they’ve been trying to expand with the dine-in concept.

If you have ever been in a relationship, you’ve probably gone out for a dinner and movie. Now imagine both concepts at the same time. Several theaters have installed what some like to call dine-in technology. At your seat, you have a trey nearby in which you can place food/drinks on, and it also has a cupholder. Sure, you can just put a bucket of popcorn and a drink on there, perhaps some candy as well, but what about meals? Go right ahead! Now, this is the way most chains do it, however, there are older theaters out there that do it in other ways. For instance, I saw this historic theater in Bridgeport, CT. It has regular seating in the center, and on the sides there are tables similar to those you’d find in a Starbucks. I haven’t been to that theater, but I once saw it online. Also, to go a different route, there’s a small chain called Chunky’s. If you are not from the Massachusetts/NH border area, this is a chain of theaters with three locations: Haverhill, MA, Nashua, NH, and Pelham, NH. Each location has chairs that come out of vehicles, such as Lincolns. These chairs surround a table used to place your food, drinks, meals, etc. Honestly, these theaters wouldn’t be my first choice because I can go to an actual restaurant and end up having a better meal. Not to mention, you can have a conversation with your friends before or after the movie. Surprisingly I’d even choose McDonald’s or Burger King over this, I don’t know why but that’s just on my mind. Although if you enjoy the movies and going out to eat, this is likely to take your interests to new dimensions. Speaking of dimensions, let’s talk about motion enhanced theaters.

Most moviemakers have had the idea of releasing their movies in 3D. A lot of these movies include Marvel movies, Disney animations, The Hobbit, Dreamworks animations, and Transformers. While many people in Hollywood love this technological aspect in movies, the general public either loves it or hates it. Those who love it see it as the future of movies, where everything on a screen pops out at them. Those against it see it as a way for those in Hollywood to grab extra cash out of people’s wallets. Personally, I’m in between both of these classifications. I enjoy 3D, I do think it adds to the experience, but not every movie needs it. In fact, a lot of movies that are released in 3D, aren’t really in 3D, they’re converted. Almost every 3D movie released in 2015 can be used as an example. Let’s list some of these movies. Jupiter Ascending, Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Insurgent, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Terminator: Genysis, Ant-Man, Pixels, San Andreas, Everest, In the Heart of the Sea, and Pan. Want more cash to waste? Let’s go for motion enhanced experiences. One common branch of motion enhancement in the seats goes by the name of D-Box. These seats are known to move along with the movie, which sounds pretty awesome, but I’ve yet to experience a movie with this. Although to my knowledge, not every movie was spectacular with this, because I heard the tickets are around $20 per seat, and the seats sometimes don’t move during big action scenes from what I’ve heard. YouTube user Jeremy Jahns has explained it himself a few years back by using Christopher Nolan’s Inception as an example. “But the second time I saw Inception I saw it in D-Box and the movie’s still amazing but the D-Box, is more like s***box. Inception’s more about dialogue and concept more than action, you see this when you’re in the D-Box seat because there were scenes when my D-Box seat didn’t move for like 30 minutes. It just sat there, kind of like the seat I’m sitting in now. (he was sitting in a desk chair) And at 8 bucks more a ticket for D-Box, yeah that’s like $8 on top of the $10 you already paid for a ticket, I felt ripped off. And all of the movie theater prices for everything do stack, so if you go see a 3D movie in D-Box, that’s 10 dollars for the movie ticket, 3 more dollars for the 3D, and 8 more dollars for the D-Box, which comes out to twice as much as a normal movie theater ticket.” Rants such as these make me question whether this is worth the money. I’d try it because into seeing movies and into discovering ways to experiencing them, and if you are the type of person that is into the experience more than the movie itself, you should go here. The same can also be said for MX4D. I haven’t been to one of these theaters either, but one actually just opened 15 minutes from where I live so I might actually check it out eventually. However it’s around the $20 range so I need to be careful, especially considering it around double the price of a matinee ticket at this theater ($10.50 for an adult matinee), which in my opinion isn’t really that cheap compared to AMC (specifically from showings that start at times before 12PM). The difference between MX4D and D-Box is that there is more provided with MX4D. Not only do the seats move, but you also have random scents, plus there are simulations of precipitation and wind. Personally, I like all of these features except for the scent, because imagine one scene if it forces you to smell a baby’s messy diaper. I wouldn’t mind it in person if I happened to be a parent one day, it would be responsibility after all, but why would you have to make us do it in a movie? We didn’t come for that! Although if you do come for that and enjoy it, good for you, it’s my personal taste (Should I say smell?) and I shouldn’t get in the way of your own thoughts. Thought the gimmicks were over? Nope. We shall move onto my personal favorite gimmick and movie experience, IMAX.

The closest theater to my house happens to be an IMAX theater, not only that, but I have the privilege of one of the few “real” IMAX theaters in existence. It doesn’t have 70mm film like it used to, but now it has laser projection, which is just like 70mm film in a number of ways, only it is in a digital form. In fact, according to Wired Magazine, this theater was one of the top 7 places to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I actually saw it there, which was in fact one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. One of the best parts of this theater in my opinion happen to be the seats. This theater consists of around 500 seats and they all contain a subwoofer underneath, otherwise known as “buttkickers.” This is exclusive to the location in which I am mentioning along with one more that is 40 minutes away from me. The only difference between the two is that the one closer to me is bigger, newer (2002 vs. 2004), has better projection (dual IMAX digital vs. IMAX laser), and more seats (approx 278 vs. approx 500). These seats are special and what I would call one of a kind. Although if you go into either of these theaters and look at the layout, you may notice how similar it is to other IMAX theaters if you’ve ever been to another one in your life (unless it’s dual digital). In a “true” IMAX theater, it’s traditional that the seats would be placed geometrically to the point where the row curves from left to right towards the center. Not to mention, in front of the front row, there would be a barrier. Below the barrier is ground with a floor on it. In certain theatres, there are seats down below there and entrances/exits. Although if you think about it, you’re technically watching a movie on a balcony because balconies are above ground, you might be on ground, but there could be a concourse below, you never know. The geometrically placed seating in my opinion, is genius. Sure, a lot of other theaters have the same layout, but I’m also saying that this in particular adds to the IMAX experience overall.  It means you don’t have to turn your head as much while watching the movie. That’s the good, now let’s move onto the bad. In 2004, IMAX installed its first MPX projector, while I actually saw it using film, it didn’t have as big of a screen as other IMAX theaters did. On the bright side, the sound was still the same, although the seats weren’t. I can’t complain too much, because I’ve been to one of these so called “liemax” theaters and still had an enjoyable experience, but the seats are in a straight line in each row. It’s kind of annoying because I don’t recall many IMAX theaters that weren’t installed until the 2000’s looking like this. Unless you’re sitting in the center it can be kind of annoying to have to look to the side. This is one of multiple reasons why I’d recommend sitting near the back in an IMAX. There have also been several IMAX ripoffs throughout recent times. The seating layouts are vastly similar. Some of these include: Regal’s RPX, Dolby Atmos, AMC Prime, Carmike Big D, Cinemark XD, AVX, and BTX. Here are some images below of some of these large formats, along with IMAX screens. I won’t go into detail about them but you may probably notice some similarities.

AMC Prime

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Cinemark XD

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Regal RPX

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Carmike Big D

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Bow-Tie BTX

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IMAX (Digital)

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IMAX (15/70mm, laser)

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The screens here overall don’t matter much other than providing similarities, but you may notice that the number of seats in each theater is alike in each picture. Not to mention, in almost every picture, the seats are in a straight line. At these theaters, you’re not getting the same as a traditional IMAX experience. I’d go to these theaters, but IMAX is number one. Also I’d also be careful and see how much each experience costs as well. If you’re not a fan of these so called gimmicks, than let’s move onto something simpler. We’ll begin with traditional aisle seating.

I have one sister in my family, and I’ve been to almost every single one of her dance recitals. Each and every time, it was in an auditorium where I had to walk down an aisle to get to my seat. If you’ve been to an older movie theater, they’ve probably been laid out in the same fashion. I’m not saying new theaters don’t do this too, but it seems to be the common layout of an older theater. Stadium seating seems to be a newer thing, which we’ll get to later. If you can’t already tell, I’m one for big theaters. This doesn’t just mean big screens, high quality projection, all that jazz. I’m a fan of those as well. Although I’m also a fan of theaters with big capacities. If a theater has less than 50 chairs I sometimes freak out because a movie might still be new or popular and with a capacity that small that might mean that you have to get your tickets VERY QUICKLY, this also means if you don’t have smart mobile device such as an IPhone or Android, or a computer, you’re screwed. Sure, you can go to the theater in person, but there may be times where you can’t as well. Maybe it’s not close to your home, maybe it’s not close to where you work, maybe you’re on vacation, etc. It’s worse with reserved seating, which we’ll get to later. This is mostly unlikely to happen and all, but it still bugs my mind. While some people prefer the new and hip reclined seating that many theaters are starting to offer, to me, it’s like 3D. It’s only good under certain circumstances. Mainly the fact that the capacities must be adequate, which I made more than likely made absolutely clear already. 3D is only good if the movie was shot in 3D and not converted (not always the case though), and if the movie uses 3D in a effective way and doesn’t just show it off for shiggles. When it comes to aisle seating, I’m just glad to see a theater that has it, it always has good capacities. The only con I can think of at the moment is that you might have a tall guy in front of you. It might block the view towards the screen as a result. Sitting in the front is no picnic either, but it could be worse, there’s no spikes in the seats. The tall guy thing usually doesn’t bother me, but I know some people hate it. I like aisle seating, but I don’t have anything against those who don’t. If you hate the tall guy thing, go to a stadium auditorium.

Ever go to a ball game and have to walk up a bunch of steps in order to get to your seat? If your two legs function well, good for you, if not, I feel bad if you’ve ever been in that sort of situation. Nevertheless, when you put the type of seating you’d find at a place like a ballpark in a cinema, only good comes as a result. One of the theaters I usually go to has all stadium seating, and I must say that it is one of my favorite theaters because of that. Not to mention it hasn’t jumped on the recliner bandwagon as well. Stadium seating in general is a bit like aisle seating, but the difference is that when you sit down, you may notice you have less of an interference when it comes to viewing the screen. You can have a tall guy sit in front of you and it won’t end up ruining the experience completely. Let’s go onto another advantage, the capacities. I mentioned already one of my local theaters has stadium seating. It has 20 theaters overall. According to Cinema Treasures, the capacities (from 2005 so results are likely to vary) are as follows when it comes to each auditorium in order from auditoriums 1-20: 207, 185, 232, 224, 90, 84, 90, 90, 315, 315, 315, 193, 492, 192, 194, 177, 90, 186, 192, 192. Now you may notice, that these capacities are relatively high. Although you may notice some in the smaller range. While I do think some of these are small, I will state that the theater does a good job at choosing which movies go into which theater because I notice the unpopular movies in the smaller theaters, not to mention the movies that have already been out for a while. Also, let’s refer back to Showcase in Woburn, a theater that used to be aisle seating and now has recliners. the biggest capacity is 146, in this theater it says 492. That’s in theater 13, which is currently an IMAX. At the time of which these stats were pointed out, it wasn’t an IMAX because the digital projection wasn’t put into theaters until 2008. The theater was converted in 2009. The capacity plate says 493 today. Either the capacity plate is wrong and the chairs have always been the same as ever, or someone decided to put in one more chair since they converted the theater. Let’s do some math, what’s 146*3? The answer comes out to 438, if you add the Woburn capacity once more you get 584. What exactly is in between these two numbers? Well, let’s figure it out. To do that, we’ll have to state the halfway point to 146. The result comes out to 73. Let’s take either 438 or 584 and work from there. 438+73=511. This also means if you subtract 73 from 584, the results come out to the same number. These all suggest that the capacity of theater 13 at Danvers is almost 3.5 times more than the Woburn capacity. Am I cheating? I wouldn’t say so, after all, the capacity between theater 13 today is similar to how it was back in 2005. Although if I am, let’s try theater 9, which has the same capacities as theaters 10 and 11. These three theaters all come out to a capacity of 315. Let’s do the math again. 292 is the result of multiplying 146 twice. If you add 23 to 292 you get the capacities of theaters 9, 10, and 11 at Danvers. I won’t go any further with it, because in all simplicity, these capacities are over twice as much as Woburn. As a matter of fact, when Woburn had standard chairs, it was like a normal movie theater. I remember it having enough chairs for a decent amount of people. Some theaters may have been puny but there were decent sized theaters overall. Stadium seating is my second pick behind IMAX, which by the way, has stadium seating. Think this is all over? Nope! We went over what is basically every type of seat you’d find in a cinema, but the thing I never touched upon in a paragraph is reserved seating. A trend which has been going on for years at several events, but movie theaters are now starting to do as well. How’s that going to work? Well let’s see!

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Baseball games. On-ice shows. Concerts. These three events all have reserved seating. When it came to that, I never complained about it because it felt like you were getting to sit somewhere for a purpose. But what about movie theaters? In most movie theaters, you don’t have any balconies or any other special sections that you may see in any random playhouse or theater. Since you don’t, pricing for each seat in the theater doesn’t usually vary. I personally want to debate whether that’s a good idea because there are some people who prefer the back, some who prefer the middle, and some prefer the front. Also maybe you should make the seats a bit cheaper if an attendee is handicapped, although in that case maybe the attendee should avoid ordering online tickets. Now if you recall my paragraph on motion-enhanced seating, I mentioned one of the bigger names in that particular industry is D-Box. Why are they relevant here? They usually do reserved seating, although it’s occasionally different than your average reserved seating system. In just about every reserved theater nowadays, each one is usually with recliners. Sometimes I question why they just do it with that and not standard seating. Although with those recliners, they are taking up the entire theater. With D-Box, they take up about 20 or so seats in the theater. The rest of the theater is regular seating. Why is this the case? Not sure. If I had to guess, it’s probably to save a few bucks when it comes to seat installation. Now, back to the recliners. Most of the theaters in my area now have recliners, AMC, Showcase, Regal, they all have recliners, a while back, I would have said it’s awesome, NOW IT SUCKS. I mentioned this in the beginning, but let’s get real here. Showcase Woburn, the closest ACTUAL movie theater to me, has 14 auditoriums with small seating capacities, and reserved seating. Keep that in mind. Imagine you’re coming here with others, let’s say you’re going to see a new movie that has been pretty trendy lately. You go to buy tickets online, it BARELY has seats left, but there are enough for you and the others you’re going with. Although, they are split up from each other. If you like that sort of thing, good for you. Although when I go to movie theaters with other people, I like to sit with them, NOT away from them. Sure, you go to the movies to see a movie, not to talk to a friend, but movie theater chains, CAN YOU LET US SIT WITH OUR FRIENDS? Seriously, let’s say it’s date night, you want to go to the movies with your girlfriend, and suddenly you realize the movie is nearly sold out, on top of that, there are no seats next to each other that are vacant. How romantic indeed. Nice job, movie theaters. How do you solve this problem? Simple, just get rid of reserved seating.

Does seating matter? Maybe. I personally try not to get too fancy when it comes to seating, I’ll take my traditional seating and go, maybe IMAX. If you have a favorite theater seating type, mention it on Twitter, along with the theater that best exemplifies quality with this type of seating. Mention with the handle @JackDrees, and maybe I’ll retweet it. Hope you stick around, because Scene Before is your click, to the flicks!

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