It's another year of second chances in the movie biz — a new "Jurassic Park," more "Star Wars," "Ted 2," "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." And now there's a remade 15-screen theater in the northwest suburb of St. Michael, at the edge of the metro area.
The rebirth of a multiplex is one more sign of recovery for towns like St. Michael that were hardest hit by the 2008 recession and real estate downturn.
The St. Michael Cinema stands out for another reason. Originally called the CineMagic Metropolitan, its interior is loosely modeled after a 1920s Paris street scene with a Moulin Rouge windmill, signage in French, street lamps and Art Nouveau details. It also has 15 screens, including one Imax, an 80-seat restaurant/bar and two party rooms.
"There is no other theater in Minnesota like it," said Nathan Block, a principal in Cinemasota Inc., which bought the theater in a bank foreclosure sale. "What this theater does is make going to the movies an event."
For Block and Cinemasota's Loren Williams, who also owns the venerable Riverview Theater in Minneapolis, the timing for remaking the St. Michael multiplex couldn't have worked out better. Movie attendance is solidly higher this year after two straight years of decline. Some experts forecast a record year for box-office receipts.
CineMagic Metropolitan opened in 2007 and closed in 2010. Rumored to have cost $15 million to build originally, it was bought by Block and Williams for $1.75 million.
"The auditoriums were left virtually empty. No seats, no projectors and except for a 70-foot Imax screen that was too large to remove, no screens," Williams said.
He and Block kept the French-inspired decor and worked on services that would add to moviegoers' experience. There are new seats in all of the auditoriums, including some high-backed recliners.
In addition to the bar with drinks that can be taken into the theater, they created an expansive food menu and self-serve soda fountain with customizable flavors. Soda and popcorn refills are free.
And in the video arcade, there are nearly 20 games that are also free.
Peyton Smith and his buddy Andrew Woods, 12-year-olds from Rogers, played "Lethal Enforcers" and "Maximum Force" last week in the arcade after seeing "Minions." "It's neat," Smith said. "It's got a lot more than the Rogers theater for food, and the seats are really comfortable."
Block said they decided to make the arcade games free because no other theaters do. "The arcade never added much revenue anyway," he said. "And it turned out to be staggeringly popular."
Theater owners are under pressure to distinguish the cinema experience to compete with the ease of watching movies on personal devices and home entertainment screens. Movie attendance is up about 7 percent and box office receipts could soar to a record $11 billion on the success of "Jurassic Park," "The Avengers," "Inside Out" and new "Star Wars," "Hunger Games" and "Mission Impossible" movies to be released later this year.
Experts will credit a record-breaking year to giving the public what it wants, but theater owners claim their upgrades are also contributing to box office success. Many have added reclining seats, including auditoriums at Marcus theaters in Oakdale and Rosemount, AMC in Coon Rapids and Inver Grove Heights, Mann in Plymouth, Paragon Odyssey in Burnsville and St. Michael Cinema.
Originally, reclining seats were a way to create buzz at older, tired properties, but new theaters, including a Marcus 10-plex to be built in Shakopee, will feature them, too. The high-back recliners that lower the seat back and raise the foot rest silently and effortlessly have been a resounding success since they were installed last year at the Oakdale and Rosemount theaters owned by Marcus.
"We're the number one theater in the area for total film grosses," said Rolando Rodriguez, president and CEO of Marcus Theaters in Milwaukee. "We used to be in the middle of the pack."
Theaters are looking to raise the presentation in every way, said Patrick Corcoran, vice president at the National Association of Theater Owners. "It's not enough to bring in new seats. You need to look at the whole theater experience."
The next step? It hasn't happened in the Twin Cities yet, but Corcoran said many major markets are adding menus designed by executive chefs.
"The expectation keeps going higher," Williams said.