Rowland: When movies theaters compete, we are the real winners

07/31/2014 12:00 AM

08/01/2014 2:23 PM

Luxury vs. discounts, that is the question.

Valley movie theaters, particularly the big cineplexes, are locked in a battle to get your butts into their seats. And, as I’ve previously reported here in The Bee, the battle lines they’ve chosen are clear: high end vs. bargain basement.

Galaxy Theatres in Riverbank was the first to throw down the gauntlet with its new Luxury+ upgrades, which turned all 1,300 seats in its 12 theaters into cushy, easy-chair recliners. All seats also are now reserved, and the theater has begun offering customers higher-end concessions, including wine and beer. And Galaxy has done all this without raising ticket prices (which are $10.50 evening, $7.50 matinees).

While the seats have been met with almost universally happy backsides, I’ve already heard some folks grumble about the new alcohol sales. But, honestly, it’s hard to imagine too many people getting up multiple times during a movie to buy a bunch of brewskis starting at $6.50 a pop. People looking to get plastered can skip the middle man and just go to a bar.

After checking out the seats myself, I will say they are undeniably more comfy than your average movie theater seat. With the press of a button, you can go almost fully horizontal, turning the movie experience into a de facto living-room experience, albeit with a much bigger screen. And, as an unexpected bonus, if the film is a dud, the seats are great for napping.

But comfort isn’t the only thing driving us consumers. If it was, no one would fly coach ever again.

So, naturally, the other theaters certainly aren’t rolling over in the face of Galaxy’s upgrades. Instead, nearby Regal Stadium in north Modesto, just 5 miles away from Galaxy, dropped all of its ticket prices last weekend from $10.75 to $8 for evening screenings and $7.75 to $6 for matinees for all showings. While Regal company officials did not return calls about the move, it’s clearly counterprogramming to Galaxy’s Luxury+ rollout. None of the surrounding Regal theaters (Turlock, Stockton, Merced) dropped prices similarly.

Not to be outdone, Brenden in Modesto also offers deep weekday discounts on its ticketing ($5 matinee and $7.50 evening screenings all-day Monday through Thursday). And the theater has seasonal deals on different showings, like its Summer Family Film Festival series.

Those discounts can really add up. A family of four heading out to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” tonight can save about $10 for an evening screening at Regal vs. Galaxy.

So the choice never has been clearer at the cineplex. Save some dough or recline in luxury? It will be interesting to see which wins out.

In the end, the real winner is clear. It’s us, the humble ticket buyers. More competition and more choices mean more customers crunching happily on popcorn in a room full of strangers.

Now, if they’d could only find a way to instantly vaporize any patron who uses his or her cell phone during the movie, the experience would be darn near perfect.

Elsewhere around the Scene:

Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson will get a little help from his friend at his scheduled Gallo Center for the Arts show this fall.

The performing arts center announced this week that Wilson will bring along fellow Beach Boys founding member Al Jardine for his Oct. 9 show in Modesto. Gallo Center CEO Lynn Dickerson said she was thrilled by the news of the late addition.

“It is an honor just to be able to present Brian Wilson, but to have two legends performing makes this concert very special indeed,” she said in a statement.

Jardine helped found the group in 1961 with Wilson and his brothers Dennis and Carl Wilson and their cousin Mike Love. He performed as a guitarist and singer with the legendary group for more than 35 years, recording 25 albums and singing leads on songs like “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Then I Kissed Her,” “I Know There’s an Answer” and “Lady Lynda.”

Tickets to the show are on sale and range from $59 to $119. For more, call (209) 338-2100 or visit www.galloarts.org.

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