Now playing at the cinema: Luxury

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 21, 2014 - 7:11 AM

Cinemas try to lure customers back to the big screen with recliners, restaurant-style food, interactive seats.

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Mara Lindquist and Abby Persoon cuddled under a blanket as they relaxed in recliner chairs at a movie theater Wednesday.

Photo: RENÉE JONES SCHNEIDER • reneejones@startribune.com,

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No one tells moviegoers at Marcus Theatres in Oakdale not to put their feet on the seats.

In fact, patrons are encouraged to do so.

The theater is one of a growing number to offer plush, roomy leather seats that let patrons recline into a classic La-Z-Boy position while enjoying “22 Jump Street” or “Jersey Boys.”

“They’re fabulous,” said Cosimo Yapello, 18, of Mahtomedi. “I would way rather go to a theater with recliners.”

The new loungers, now in several theaters in the Twin Cities, are one of many ways that theater owners are working to lure customers away from Netflix and 60-inch TVs at home. Theaters are adding restaurant-quality food, alcohol, on-site lounges and reserved seating, not to mention better sound and bigger screens.

For many theater owners, the upgrades are a matter of necessity. As the home movie experience has improved, theater attendance in the United States has dropped from 1.57 billion in 2002 to 1.34 billion in 2013, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

“Our industry was focused on sight and sound in the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s,” said Rolando Rodriguez, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based Marcus Theatres. “Now we’ve moved into the next phase where we focus on customer service, including where the customer is sitting for two and a half hours.”

AMC Entertainment is betting big on the recliner to reel in more customers. It plans to spend $600 million over the next five years for recliner reseat conversions, according to a securities filing.

The high-back recliners are an upgrade from rockers. At the touch of a button, the seat eases back as the leg rest rises quietly and effortlessly. There’s no jockeying to claim the arm rest. Each seat has its own, including one with a cup holder and one that can be raised for couples who want to snuggle closer.

Fully reclined, each seat takes up about 6½ feet, along with wide aisles that don’t require moving sideways to scrunch between rows.

In the Twin Cities, recliners are available at 25 Marcus screens in Oakdale and Rosemount and 16 screens at AMC Coon Rapids.

But theatergoers shouldn’t expect a recliner makeover takeover. The new loungers cost about $500 each plus installation.

Theaters that are already doing well, such as AMC Southdale and Rosedale, have little incentive to spend the money. “Recliners work well at an underperforming older property,” said Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for the national theater owners group in Los Angeles. “Theaters doing well in densely populated areas don’t need to do it.”

Mike Muller, who owns eight suburban Twin Cities theaters in cities such as Lakeville, Rogers and White Bear Township, has no intention of adding the expensive seats.

He’s impressed with the attendance figures he’s seen at theaters with recliners, but he’s not convinced of their staying power. “We have high-back rockers in all of our theaters which we think are a good compromise. Time will tell.”

Meanwhile, Muller and other theater owners continually study the competition for ways to keep movie lovers coming back. Monster screens are Muller’s trademark: screens 35 feet tall by 80 feet wide — the largest in Minnesota, according to his website. “Needless to say, don’t sit in the first three rows,” he said with a laugh.

Theatres at Mall of America offer 30 D-Box seats that move in tandem with the action on the screen, varying from vibrations when a car shifts into gear to a backward jolt when a character is punched on screen. Although they have been around nationally for several years, Mall of America is the only Minnesota theater to offer them.

“We have established regulars who love them,” said Chris Grap, business development and project manager at the mall theaters. “They will be beating down the doors to experience ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ in a D-Box seat when it’s released in August.”

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