Things have changed in movie theaters. I learned this two weeks ago, and up to that point I hadn’t been to a film in America in over 3 years. I only realized this gap in my experience when it occurred to me that I wanted to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, and didn’t know how I should buy tickets. I had a brief moment of anxiety in my ignorance, but was quickly helped by another exexpat friend who suggested we buy them in advance. The rest would be discovered shortly.
In the States, I had never bought tickets in advance of seeing a film. In America of four years ago, I would usually drive to a theater buy tickets for the film 2 minutes before the start time (or 2 minutes after start time, avoiding some commercials). In Turkey and in Hong Kong though, it was more common to book your tickets in advance so you could pick the best seat. Only rarely would we buy tickets just before the show. If you waited, you ran the risk of being forced to sit in the front row or break up your group into smaller parties, scattered throughout the auditorium.
Now, wanting to see a film with some friends, I wondered if things had changed. Did America now have assigned seating? Would a theater be sufficiently crowded to justify advanced purchase? Could I bring alcoholic beverages to a showing? Would 2D still be an option? It turns out the answers are: yes, yes, you can buy beer in some theaters and yes. At least in the fancy shmancy theater I went to. But there was still more to discover.
We bought our tickets at the theater’s website, and were able to download a mobile ticket without the need to check in at the theater. We were running late, so not needing to print anything out or wait in line was quite helpful. We rushed in just as some raptors were rampaging across the screen for the new Jurassic Park trailer. Then there were 3 more trailers.
To generalize every non-America country I’ve seen films in the cinema: you buy in advance, show up on time, see a couple ads and one preview and the film begins close to the start time. I’ve even been to a theater that had no ads and no previews, starting within 30 seconds of the listing. In America, however, there are probably 15 minutes of previews. You can be late without fear of missing any of the opening credits and any easter eggs therein. I knew this, of course, from my previous experiences, but it was still a little surprising.
This was not the only novelty: the seats were amazing. We discovered that we had about 6 feet of leg room, individually separated armrests, a small retractable table for popcorn and snacks, and individually electronically adjustable footrests on the reclining leather lounge chairs. This was entirely unexpected. Gone are the days where you have to make everyone in your row stand up to let you into the middle section, thanks to the extra 4 feet of walking space between seats. No longer do you have to jostle for the armrest with a stranger sitting next to you. No more balancing popcorn bags on your leg and wanting to put it somewhere so you could relax and watch the film. Your legs will never fall asleep in a film again if you don’t want them to. You only have to push a button to adjust the reclining angle and the height of your feet.
There are such seats in some theaters in HK, I believe, but the tickets are more expensive and harder to get. This was just default in our local theater for a 2D blockbuster flick. I doubt these upgrades have been made at every cinema in the area, but this will encourage me to go back, answering the question of how cinemas can reach more customers. Just make it high-tech and more comfortable than your sofa at home.
In conclusion, things are not so different in the States when it comes to the experience of the cinema. There is nothing to be afraid of. But we also learned from some confused looks that referring to the venue as “the cinema” will probably not be understood in American dialects. If you are inclined to other English dialects, best translate the British expression to “movie theater” for the locals.