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Movie theaters evolve in effort to draw viewers

Movie ticket sales are down.

With so many viewing options through streaming, video on demand and cable, more viewers are opting to enjoy their favorite flicks from the comfort of their homes.

But movie theaters are fighting back – with reserved seating, state-of-the-art screens, reclining chairs and even some that provide a massage.

If you have not been to a movie lately, you are in for a surprise. In the past few years, new innovative theaters have been built, and the old standbys have plenty of new tricks.

Here’s what’s new in moviegoing experiences in the Duke City:

Movie & beer

“We know there are plenty of options for moviegoers,” says Greg Johnson, Flix Brewhouse director of sales and marketing. “Which is why our model is different than other theaters. We’re aiming to provide a different environment.”

Flix Brewhouse, 3236 La Orilla NW, opened in November. The 38,500-square-foot theater is the anchor tenant of Village @ La Orilla and cost around $6 million to build.

It has an in-house brewery and full kitchen that serves patrons both in their theater seats or in a more conventional restaurant setting. It provides reserved seating only.

“Being able for patrons to have great food and some drinks is a bonus,” Johnson says. “It’s a different experience, and I think this is the direction many theaters will begin to incorporate into their business model.”

Flix’s menu is complete with appetizers, entrees and dessert. Moviegoers are encouraged to arrive early, as there is no late seating. While you catch the flick, simply press the button in front of you and write down what you need and the staff gets it for you.

Flix screens first-run movies as well as events such as ’80s music video nights or cult classic films.

All you can …

Over at the Four Hills Village Shopping Center sits Icon Cinemas.

Icon Cinema complex in the Four Hills Village shopping center at Tramway and East Central. Customers can choose from reclining seats or ones that vibrate. Pictured are co-owners Julie Snell and her husband, Sam. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Icon was started in Roswell by the Snell family, and it expanded into the Duke City in 2015.

The theater recently added an 11th screen.

The new auditorium screen measures 65 feet by 28 feet. That makes it about 50 percent wider than any of the venue’s other screens, according to Samson Snell, owner/operator of Icon.

Icon’s movie experience consists of electric recliners, all-you-can-eat popcorn and a ticket-buying process that allows customers to identify and reserve open seats.

“We’re from New Mexico, and it’s not a very rich state. Ours is a first-class theater, and it has a different feel,” Snell says. “Everyone deserves to have a top-notch experience. My mom says going to the movies is expensive, and this is why we do the free refills on popcorn and drinks. It makes a difference when families come in and have the opportunity to save some money.”

Icon shows first-run films.

Old-school vibe

While the other theaters offer different amenities, in Nob Hill, Keif Henley likes to keep the Guild Cinema simple.

The Guild Cinema, which has been in Nob Hill since 1966, has one theater that seats 117 and is known for showing independent films. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

There is only one screen – in a theater that seats 117 – and patrons purchase tickets at the box office, with no online sales. When it comes to concessions, the Guild is traditional in its offerings, with popcorn and fountain drinks.

It has been in Nob Hill since 1966 and is the oldest theater in the Duke City.

“We’re more of a homespun, local-flavored theater,” Henley says.

Henley describes the Guild as more of an art house theater, rotating smaller, independent films.

“We try to show interesting and thought-provoking film,” Henley says. “We pay attention to what other theaters are offering and offer what they aren’t showing.”

The Guild also works with local filmmakers in getting their independent films and short films screened.

The Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival has called the Guild home for years.

“Because we are independent, it gives us the flexibility to be very community-oriented,” Henley says. “We try our best to be community-minded. We are old-fashioned in some sense. We’re not providing seats that vibrate. It’s all very simple and familiar.”

The Guild shows independent films.

South Valley magic

The AMC Albuquerque 12 was rebranded in March and offers Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, menu items like pretzel bites and movie nachos and refillable annual popcorn buckets.

The theater is also home to the Duke City’s second IMAX screen.

Other amenities include recliner seating, MacGuffins bars, and premium large-format auditoriums like IMAX at AMC.

Being down in the South Valley, it also has smaller crowds, which provides plenty of space to enjoy a film.

Something for everyone

Regal Entertainment Group – which runs High Ridge, Cottonwood and Winrock – is running its “Summer Movie Express” program for the season. The nine-week film festival takes place at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. A portion of each $1 admission goes to assist the Will Rogers Institute.

“The Summer Movie Express is known for delivering top-notch moviegoing experiences by showing family-friendly movies at a great value,” says Ken Thewes, chief marketing officer at Regal Entertainment Group. “This summertime tradition is about creating memories for kids and parents as they enjoy these movies together, which is one of the best things we can offer at Regal.”

Cottonwood recently added reserved seating to a few of its theaters, making it a much more intimate experience. There are also theaters with reclining seats.

At High Ridge, moviegoers can catch plenty of art house films, which is a treat in the city.

And Winrock is the behemoth of all the Regal theaters. The theater is home to the first IMAX theater and features plenty of options for films.

Art house & more

The two Century theaters – Century Rio 24 and Century 14 Downtown – have reserved seating and plenty of options for films. The Century brands in the city both show art house films under the CineArts brand. Rio offers XD and reserved seating in some theaters. Downtown 14 has digital projection with stadium seating.

Century 14 Theatres in Downtown Albuquerque offers art house and first-run movies. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

Snell says there will be more changes in the movie theater industry.

His family stays on top of what the newest technology is.

“We built our theater to be comfortable,” Snell says. “For theaters like Regal and Century, when they put in reserved seating, they are losing a lot of their seats. It’s something of a good move on their part because they can now offer the comfort that smaller theaters like us have for our business model. The industry is always changing, and we’re excited to be a New Mexico company helping lead the way.”