New High-Class Cinema Boasts $29 Admission Fee

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The swanky bar and lounge at Gold Class Cinemas in Pasadena, Calif. i

At the swanky bar and lounge at Gold Class Cinemas in Pasadena, Calif., customers can order cocktails before, during or after a movie. Courtesy of Gold Class Cinemas hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Gold Class Cinemas
The swanky bar and lounge at Gold Class Cinemas in Pasadena, Calif.

At the swanky bar and lounge at Gold Class Cinemas in Pasadena, Calif., customers can order cocktails before, during or after a movie.

Courtesy of Gold Class Cinemas

The North American box office total for 2009 was more than $10 billion, which is a record high, according to Hollywood.com.

A new theater in Pasadena, just north of Los Angeles, is trying to make its contribution to the box office total by offering a seriously high ticket price, and luxury to match.

Sticker Shock

On a recent visit to Gold Class Cinemas to pick up a few matinee tickets to Invictus, the new movie starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, each ticket rang up at $29 apiece.

"Friday through Sunday is $29," the box office assistant said. "Monday through Thursday is $22."

That's right — $29 for a matinee. At the Gold Class Cinemas, that $29 entitles patrons to a movie in their choice of 40 reserved seats.

"This is the size auditorium that a normal chain would probably put 150 seats, but we only put 40," said Mark Mulcahy, vice president of marketing, as he gave a tour of one screening room. "You can see even if Shaquille O'Neal is sitting in front of you; it wouldn't be a problem because there's no bad seat in the house here."

Which helps when you are stretched out in their microsuede recliners. They'll even bring a pillow and blanket if you want.

"What our customers say is it's like flying first class," Mulcahy said.

Then there's the food. The $29 admission fee doesn't pay for it, but it does allow you the privilege of having dinner and cocktails served to you while watching the film.

Wine, Dine And Watch

Here, a few other theaters with variations on the Gold Class Cinemas business model:

Cinema Under the Stars

Located in Mission Hills, Calif., Cinema Under the Stars offers moviegoers a chance to experience film outdoors. Classic movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's and more recent films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are projected digitally onto a 20-foot screen. The cozy 60-seat theater is located behind a hair salon, which offers discounts to theater patrons.

Mission Theater

Once a Swedish Evangelical Mission and Longhoreman's Union, Mission Theater is one of eight theaters operated by McMenamins of Portland, Ore., and the city's first combined theater and pub. For $3, patrons of Mission Theater can catch a new release or independent film while enjoying pub food and ale.

Alamo Drafthouse

At the Alamo Drafthouse, customers can place orders for wine, beer, chips and queso and other food and beverages while watching a movie. Tables line each row of seats and orders are taken by placing an order card on the table.

Cinebarre

For moviegoers who prefer peace and quiet during a show, Cinebarre, which is located in five states across the country, is an 18-and-up movie theater. No minors are allowed in without a parent or legal guardian, except on "Scream Days," when parents can bring children under the age of 6.

Sources: topspresents.com, mcmenamins.com, cinebarre.com, drafthouse.com

— Katherine Bascuas / NPR

The seasonal menus include everything from fried calamari with lemon and ginger to hand-pulled pizzas cooked fresh to order.

Los Angeles theaters have been trending toward luxury for almost a decade now. The Arclight in Hollywood and The Landmark theater in West L.A. claim a phenomenal picture, comfortable seats and excellent sound quality plus $14-$19 tickets, but Gold Class Cinemas has upped the ante.

You Get What You Pay For

Despite that extra $10, some consumers, like Cheryl DiSpaltro, who came to see The Blind Side, are sold.

"We loved it," she said. "This is the only way to go to the movies, we just — wow!"

Her friend Martha Wall said trips to this theater will be an occasional indulgence; she plans to bring her husband for their anniversary.

But is business like this enough to keep Gold Class afloat?

Some Amenities Worth More Than Others

Kevin Goetz is president of the worldwide motion picture group at the research firm OTX. In a 2009 OTX survey, Goetz says dinner and a movie under one roof was high on the list of customer wants.

Other perks weren't quite so sought after.

"Things like alcohol at the movies score very low," Goetz says. "Valet parking is also very low. Even reserved seating was not terribly high."

This is bad news for Gold Class, since the bar is where it expects to make its money.

Goetz also questions the chain's number of allotted seats in its Pasadena location: "With up to 40 seats, in the six theaters that they have, is that sustainable?"

It's a good question — these deluxe movie houses have been introduced by Village Roadshow, an Australian entertainment conglomerate. In addition to Pasadena, Gold Class has opened three other theater complexes around the U.S.

'Everybody Can Afford This'

According to Goetz, none of the American theaters are as successful as their Australian counterparts.

But it's early yet, and if the economy stabilizes, they may do better. Given the past year's economic turmoil, Mulcahy says battered consumers were hungry for a little escapism.

"This is a great night out," he says. "And you may not be able to go to the Bahamas this year, but this is something you can afford. Everybody can afford this."

To be successful, what Gold Class needs is enough 'everybodies' who can and will part with that kind of money on a regular basis.

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