There’s nothing like the smell of a new multiplex. Every one I go into advances the state of the art, it seems, and some even improve the movie-going experience.
A new Epic Theater where I live has all this digital ticket buying and concession buying that eventually, like fast food joints, will be able to cut staff and run the place paperless, if not entirely cash-less, with virtually no one to man the snack bar, tear tickets, etc.
The upselling of “reserved seating” is sweeping the business the way digital projection did in the mid-2000s.
But not every theater is new, and even a lot of the new ones leave a lot to desired for quality of experience, customer service, quality seating, decent food and cleanliness.
And believe me, I’ve seen some disasters, and not just the ones up on the screen.
I’ve been reviewing movies since the 1980s, and as part of that, I’ve written stories for various newspapers over the years over a beloved local cinema that has fallen on hard times, others that have been allowed to fall apart.
I’ve written “The Last Drive-in” story more times than I can count. At the Orlando Sentinel, I visited every surviving drive-in in Florida for a story that took months to finish (most of them have since closed).
But I also surveyed all of the region’s movie theaters when I first started there for another story. Many were aged dumps where it took effort to lift yourself out of broken chairs, to lift your foot off permanently-sticky floors.
A truism then and now? Theaters don’t do a lot of fixing of things that get busted. Seats, bathrooms, etc., are just roped off. This has been going on since the ’90s.
The great “purge” of smaller theaters and multi-plexes that happened around 2000 wiped out many of these dumps, though a few survive as second-run houses.
“The rescreening of America,” as the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) used to characterize it at their annual ShowEast convention in Orlando (which I covered) put new 14-24 screen theaters all across America in the mid-2000s, oddly at the same time as the Great Purge of Newspaper Movie Critics began.
But bad movie-going experiences still abound. I duck into theaters in small towns and big cities on my travels. And a few experiences, often repeated (as necessity takes me back to some “bad” cinemas repeatedly) stand out as the worst I’ve seen, perhaps the worst in America.
Decades of rumors that “it’s closing” have dogged the Oviedo Marketplace Regal outside of Orlando, a cinema that over the years has developed a bad reputation for botched showings.
Dank second run houses are pretty much the same everywhere, Deland or Durham, New York or Newport News.
But a few first-run theaters stand out, in my 35 years or so of reviewing experience, with recent visits burning the memory into my brain.
Check out the negative Yelp! and Google reviews for the Stadium 10 at Northgate Mall in Durham, NC, a theater I have visited a couple of times while checking in on elderly relatives.
It’s scorching hot in the summer, see-your-breath cold in the winter. I am only now getting over the bronchitis that I am sure I contracted while freezing through something there last Thanksgiving. And online customer reviews have been bitching about this for YEARS.
The pleasant-enough staff sell last-night’s popcorn, and apologize for the heat. Or the AC. The busted, torn and sticky seats and often filthy auditoriums? Not so much.
It’s a terrible theater, not the worst staffed (a lot of AMCs seem to best it in that regard), but a real dump that city inspectors ought to close until they fix it.
Is it the worst theater in America? I think it might be.
The Satellite Cinemas in a dead mall in Titusville, Florida, lost their gear, their management and their monopoly when a shiny new Epic multiplex opened down the street.
Mall management, as is often the case, desperately wants that foot traffic the theater generated (not enough to keep the mall from converting into dance and gymnastics studios, an antiques indoor flea market, etc.). So they reopened it, as some mall management companies do. Second run. Rented projection gear.
And virtually no usable seats. It’s a pit. I took a tip about it and ducked in there the other day. A disaster.
But what about you? Are you stuck in a neighborhood or town with a zombie cinema, a smelly, cold and underlit corpse where “I’ll wait to watch it on Netflix” changes your moviegoing habits forever?
Feel free to name your candidates in the comments. Shaming them might not do any good, but with this site’s Google Search position, management will get an eyeful of abuse about what they need to correct, even if they’re ignoring Yelp! and Google Reviews.