Tale of two cinemas

Grove draws boffo auds while ArcLight tries to find its way

They’re coming to The Grove in droves but ArcLight is still trying to find its ideal way.

That, in short, is the six-month progress report on L.A.’s two newest state-of-the-art movie emporiums. And for an explanation of the divergent results for the multiplexes — both Pacific Theaters properties — look no further than the real estate development encompassing the cinemas.

The Grove, which has consistently ranked among the nation’s top-grossing theaters since opening in March, is surrounded by a new outdoor mall boasting all sorts of retail attractions. And the Grove at Farmer’s Market, as the development is called, appears as much a hit as its resident cinema, the Pacific Grove 14.

“You go there and it’s a three-, four-, five-hour experience, because once you park you can go to entertainment, a restaurant or shopping,” DreamWorks distrib topper Jim Tharp enthuses. “There’s a lot to be said about having all of that available in one place.”

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the surrounding midtown-L.A. neighborhood is considerably more upscale than the Hollywood enclaves near Pacific’s ArcLight theater. The ArcLight, located next to Pacific’s well-known Cinerama Dome monoscreen, sits on an older stretch of Sunset Boulevard.

As a result of its nearby upscale demo, the Grove has been doing boffo box office whenever it throws an arthouse title into its commercial mix.

By contrast, the ArcLight has found a bit tougher going with art fare, which traditionally has struggled in that neighborhood. The nearby Mann Chinese adjacent to the Hollywood and Highland complex expanded from two screens to seven last year but continues to play almost all commercial titles.

Pacific Theatres chief Chris Forman says the ArcLight attempts to split its auditoriums evenly between commercial and specialty fare.

“We’re looking for people who are passionate about film, and people who are passionate about film support both commercial and art films,” Forman observes.

As for whether the Hollywood venue can ever approach the heady success of its crosstown kin at the Grove, he suggests it’s too early to tell how high ArcLight can fly.

Still, there’s been plenty to stoke the continued optimism of Pacific brass that ArcLight can find a winning mix of movie types. In fact, its film openings have occasionally ranked in the weekend top 10 among all U.S. theaters since its March opening.

However, some of that is a function of size, with some ArcLight auditoriums boasting upward of 400 seats, roughly double the industry norm. And ArcLight runs have often been marked by an almost immediate drop from the top ranks for subsequent weeks of pics’ runs.

“In our view, ArcLight is a new and different (kind of) business,” Forman says. “Our attitude is that at six months it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions about what’s working and what’s not. But I’m confident that as more people discover it the grosses will continue to increase.”

ArcLight offers cafe-style dining (and boozing) in its huge lobby, but other food and beverage opportunities immediately adjacent the theater are minimal. That situation could improve when retail/residential development planned for a lot adjacent to the multiplex is completed.

The pull of nearby retail operations can be a big help to any movie theater, says Sony’s domestic distrib prexy Rory Bruer.

“When you have something like the Grove with all those great stores and restaurants it becomes an immediate destination,” Bruer says. “And the retail and the theater very much help each other.”

The Mann Chinese venue is a combo of the historic former Grauman’s theater and a complementary, stadium-seating six-screener built as part of the next-door Hollywood & Highland retail project. The huge H&H complex has been struggling to attract enough shopping traffic of its own, but the Mann theaters still enjoy some benefit from their proximity to the site’s many stores and restaurants.

Both ArcLight and the Grove also feature stadium seating and state-of-the-art projection and audio. But ArcLight attempts to offer even higher-end amenities such as reserved seating and leather seat cushions in all of its auditoriums.

As a result, ArcLight tickets sell for a market-high $14. Registered “members” get a $3 discount on weekday and night tickets. At $11 including free parking, this puts weekday tickets within range of the $9.50 tickets at the Grove.

Registration is free of charge, and Forman says about 3,000 patrons have done so to date. The membership database allows Pacific to track repeat biz, and Forman says returning traffic has been climbing noticeably.

Pacific opened its new L.A. theaters about six months after the debut of the Bridge cinema in southwest L.A. An 18-screener operated by an affiliate of National Amusements, the Bridge is said to be holding its own in the Westside movie market with a mix of reserved and standard seating, and deluxe amenities including stadium-design auditoriums.

What’s the moral of the crosstown theater story? Give them a Nordstroms and a rib joint, and they will come, apparently.

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