I've had the Cinedine experience at Marcus Midtown, taken in a 3D IMAX comic-book thriller at AMC's Bluffs 17, checked out the fully stocked bar at Aksarben Cinema and stretched out my legs in AMC Westroads' spacious seating.
But I have never had a moviegoing experience quite so decadent as when I attended the grand reopening of Marcus' Majestic Theatre (formerly the 20 Grand) in September.
Marcus ripped out the stadium seating in all 19 of its auditoriums (no, not 20, never was 20, Marcus officials told me) and replaced it with Dream Loungers — roomy leather recliners with cupholders in the arms and footrests that zip up and down at the touch of a button. You can reserve a specific seat. All at the same ticket price as before — $9.50 for adults and $6.50 for kids and senior citizens during prime time on a weekend. The sound system has been souped up, too.
At the same time, the Majestic expanded its food offerings to include freshly made Zaffiro's pizza (loved the barbecued chicken and onion), hot panini-style sandwiches (Italian sausage and turkey melts), turtle cheesecake, brownie sundaes, salads and wraps. Trust me, it's good food. And all of it is designed to be ready within 10 minutes of your order.
If you don't want to wait for it, they'll give you a vibrating pager so you know when to come pick it up.
While you wait, you can stop by the Majestic's Take Five Lounge to pick up a beer, glass of wine or mixed drink to take back to your seat with the food. Or, if you're just waiting for a friend between movies, have a drink and take in a ballgame on one of seven large flatscreens in the lounge.
I don't drink alcohol while I'm working. But even with a glass of water to go with my plate of delicious nibblies, I thought I had died and gone to cinema heaven as I eased the footrest up and the recliner back to watch “We're the Millers.” It's a fun little adult crime comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, but I'm pretty sure it seemed better because of my cushy seat.
It was like watching a movie in my living-room chair, only with a really big screen, really great sound system and yummy eats I didn't have to cook.
The Majestic just upped the ante on the Bluffs 17, which installed recliners in all its auditoriums last summer, began offering reserved seating, and added a bar and lounge area. What it doesn't have is the expanded food menu. Marcus' Village Pointe also added a Take Five Lounge in May, featuring local craft beers and free wi-fi.
Bluffs 17 and Village Pointe are trying to match or one-up Aksarben Cinema, which built a cool bar area when it opened in late 2010, boasting an all-digital experience, all screens capable of 3D, and jazzed-up concession offerings with things like flatbread pizza, hot dog sliders and green bean fries.
Local theaters are in an escalating race to claim your movie-going dollar and keep you coming to see movies on a big screen with an audience — rather than on your home flatscreen while seated in your own favorite chair and eating your own food. Or, worse, streaming a movie to your laptop, iPad or (shudder) smart phone.
They are taking financial risks to hold onto your business.
When Marcus installed those leather recliners, it cut in half the number of seats in the multiplex from more than 3,000 to under 1,500. I'm sure the story is the same at Bluffs 17, which notably did not install the space-eating recliners in its IMAX theater.
Both theaters are counting on those seats being so addictive and in demand that they fill them consistently.
“Once you've seen a movie that way, why do any other?” asked Jessica Sumner, general manager at the Majestic. “The seats are a real game-changer, and we're getting really great feedback. We're focusing on what matters to customers, and that means more than just a facelift.”
What they are giving up is the extra selling capacity when a blockbuster like “Thor: The Dark World” or “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” opens and they pack every theater in the place for the first couple days.
Likely no company can afford to cut capacity like that at every theater in its chain.
Luxuries like these don't come cheap. Marcus executives spoke of a multimillion-dollar investment in the company's theater upgrades.
It's not cheap for moviegoers, either. If you want a reserved seat at AMC's Bluffs 17 for a prime-time weekend showing of a 3D movie, and you make that reservation online, you will pay $13.75 for an adult ticket, $10.75 for kids. No discount for senior citizens. At the Majestic, that reserved seat to a prime-time 3D movie is $13.50, $9 for seniors and kids. Knock a dollar off at Marcus, $1.25 at AMC, if you buy the tickets at the box office.
Food and drinks, of course, are extra.
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“Ten Little Indians,” Bellevue Little Theatre, 7 p.m. tonight and Monday at the theater, 203 W. Mission Ave. in Bellevue. Show runs Jan. 24-Feb. 9. Information: 402-731-0610.
“Come Back, Little Sheba,” SNAP Productions, 1 p.m. Nov. 24 and 7 p.m. Nov. 25 at SNAP/Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California St. Show runs March 6-30. Information: email firstname.lastname@example.org
“Vanities,” Chanticleer Theater, 7 p.m. tonight and Monday at the theater, 830 Franklin Ave., in Council Bluffs. Show runs Feb. 7-16. Information: email email@example.com