Griping about the price of movie admission is a local pastime, and with good reason: A full-price ticket to an evening screening is now at least $10 at most Madison-area theaters. Add a few bucks if you want to see a movie like Godzilla in 3D, and even more if you're attending a broadcast of a West End theater production or a Metropolitan Opera performance. With snacks and soda, a movie date can cost more than a sushi dinner.
Inflation isn't the only reason for the sticker shock. Movie theaters have more amenities than ever before, from leather reclining seats to swanky cocktail lounges. Marcus Theatres added these two features to Point Cinema, and theyâ€™ll be a focal point at the company's newest property: the Palace Cinema at Prairie Lakes, a new Sun Prairie complex slated for a November 2014 opening. To be located at 2846 Hoepker Rd., Palace will have about 2,000 seats and 12 screens, with the potential to add more if the need arises, according to Marcus Theatres president and CEO Rolando Rodriguez.
"We want to make sure it's the absolute best physical space for the consumer," he says. "We want to make the best sight lines possible, even if it means a few less seats."
Rodriguez notes that the company wants to see moviegoers spend more time at the cineplex rather than heading home after the credits roll. This goal is based partly on market research, including moviegoing preferences gleaned from customers who belong to the Marcus Theatres loyalty program, Magical Movie Rewards. The program currently has about 260,000 subscribers.
He predicts that a night at the movies will feel more valuable to patrons if they "spend three and a half hours at the theater rather than two and a half, and truly make it an evening out." In this scenario, $10 might not feel so expensive.
Increasing the number of seats and screens is just the beginning of the upgrade process. All of Palace's seats will be recliners, according to Rodriguez, and four of its screening rooms will be Big Screen Bistros where visitors can enjoy restaurant-style food and drinks, including alcohol. There will also be two UltraScreen DLX spaces like the one at Point, which features overhead speakers, additional surround-sound and other upgrades that enhance films' special effects.
A Take Five Lounge similar to the one that debuted at Point in August 2013 will offer an additional screen, plus a bar and a menu filled with items from the popular Milwaukee-based pizzeria Zaffiro's. Unlike Point, Palace will have an outdoor fire pit to put guests in a vacation state of mind.
In addition to thanking partners such as Tri-North, the builder of the new cineplex, the company made sure to highlight all of these upscale features at a May 14 groundbreaking ceremony at the Palace site.
But with these additions comes a loss. Rodriguez says that once Palace is up and running, Marcus will close Eastgate.
"Eastgate has been a phenomenal theater for us, but the building itself represents some real challenges," Rodriguez says. "We wanted to build a theater based on what the next 20 to 50 years hold for us... Sun Prairie offered the ability to to that. We looked at the area [by Costco] because there are lots of new amenities being built there, and we... wanted to be part of a retail and entertainment area because we know consumers like to combine shopping with going to the movies."
Rodriguez says Marcus Theatres' focus on providing multiple hours of entertainment, including dining and shopping options, also stems from successful updates leadership has seen at other cinemas and in other branches of its parent company, the Marcus Corporation, which owns hotels, restaurants and other hospitality-industry ventures.
"If a competitor is doing something right, we're not afraid to emulate it. Usually, we try to fine-tune it and make it better," he says. "With the Palace Cinema, we hope to set the pace for many to come in the [movie theater] industry."