Peeking over the Horizon: What does the future of the moviegoing experience look like?

Cinemas Features

Not long ago, a night at the movies meant munching on candy and popcorn while squirming around in a chair that boasted all the comfort of a church pew. My, how times have changed!

From Entertainment to Eatery

Dine-in theatres, developed in response to growing competition from digital home technologies and a recognition that theatre owners could capture more revenue, feature liquor service, expanded menus and more comfortable environments. This has changed the cinema from a simple movie venue to a food and entertainment destination. 

Once the early adopters of the dine-in theatre concept—most notably Studio Movie Grill, iPic Theatres, Movie Tavern, CineBistro, AMC and Alamo Drafthouse—worked the kinks out, other theatres jumped into the fray. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a theatre renovation or new construction that doesn’t incorporate the in-theatre dining model into its design.

From Eatery to Amenities

While the movie arguably still lies at the center of the cinema experience, the theatre itself is taking an ever-increasing role in luring and retaining customers.

In response, cinemas have moved markedly upscale. At Proctor Companies, we are seeing increased demand for complex designs, higher-end materials, richer finishes and more innovative lighting. Theatre owners are intertwining these elements to create enticing restaurants, dazzling lobbies, inviting bars and comfortable auditoriums that offer a delightful respite from a turbulent world.

For owners, that means that the quality of your food, the level of your service, the attractiveness of your facility and the ease of interaction (think online ticketing, reserved seating, digital discounts/offers) are the factors that draw customers to your theatre. Getting these things right will provides a memorable experience that moviegoers want to share with family and friends—and that they can’t replicate at home.

So that’s where we are today. But what about tomorrow? What will attract the next generation of customers?

From Amenities to Immersiveness

The next step in cinema’s evolution is immersiveness. In the not-too-distant future, a night at the movies might look like this:

* You search for a movie using a mobile app and buy reserved-seat tickets. You also order food and beverages. 

* Your movie app sends a note to your friends telling them what movie you are going to see and when. They purchase seats next to yours.

* As you and your friends drive to the theatre, the app notifies the restaurant of your projected arrival times. When you enter the lobby, holographic characters from the movie welcome you. You step up to the pick-up window where your food and drinks are waiting. Inside the auditorium, laser projection creates ultra-lifelike visuals and digital audio shapes directionally textured sounds. The aroma of food simmering on the stove drifts through the auditorium during a cooking scene. Your seat tilts, bucks and shakes during the car-chase scene. Fingertips knead your back during the massage scene.

* You’ve drained your drink, so you use your app to order a refill. In minutes, a drone or some other automated system delivers your fresh drink to your seat.

* Now the fun really begins. Using your phone or a built-in console, you adopt an avatar and become a character in the movie. At this point, movies and gaming intersect—virtual reality has melded with augmented reality—in a spectacularly vivid interactive experience. You help determine the plotline and the ending. At the conclusion of the show, you’re exhausted.

* On your way out of the auditorium, movie characters lining the corridor thank you for attending, addressing you by name and encouraging you to return. You stop at the bar to share a drink or two with your friends and review the movie. After recounting your experience, you leave the theatre and step out into the real world.

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Padraig Doherty-Peterson handles project sales at Proctor Companies.