×

The Sorry State of Manhattan Movie Houses

Already blessed with the best weather in the world, Los Angeles moviegoers are also graced with the world’s best movie theaters, specifically a new generation of uberplexes that combine state-of-the-art projection and sound with unparalleled comfort and deluxe amenities, including reserved seating, expanded leg room, in-theater dining and service of alcoholic beverages. Along with the 2002 opening of Pacific Theaters’ the Grove and ArcLight Hollywood, the L.A. cinema roster has grown to include ArcLight venues in Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and the South Bay, Sundance Cinemas’ retrofit of the Sunset 5, and upstart iPic Theaters’ One Colorado in Pasadena.

By contrast, there has not been one multiplex built in Manhattan in more than a decade. The Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse chain dampened the spirits of many a moviegoer when it scrapped plans last fall to open a location in the long-shuttered Metro theater on the Upper West Side, with Drafthouse CEO Tim League blaming rising construction costs.

Ask around about the sorry state of the Big Apple’s exhibition scene, and the answer is, not surprisingly, almost always the same: money, money, money. “Most movie theaters operate on a very small profit margin,” says Landmark Theatres CEO Ted Mundorff. “In other words, your occupancy cost is everything, and in New York City, when you’re paying $500,000 in property tax and you’re paying some of the rental price per square foot that these sites require … well, that’s why you don’t get new theaters.”

Mundorff notes that when operator Clearview Cinemas pulled out of its six-screen 62nd Street theater on Manhattan’s chronically underscreened Upper East Side last June, virtually every exhibitor in the country, including Landmark, looked at the site for a possible retrofit. But, says Mundorff, “Forgetting what construction costs would be, forgetting what rent would be, the property taxes alone locked you out.”

Along with a paucity of new multiplexes, only a handful of theaters even offer the tiered stadium seating that has long been the industry norm. Just managing to snag an unobstructed view of the screen can qualify as a small triumph.

The news isn’t all bad. Despite the sometimes rowdy Times Square crowds they attract, the city’s two 42nd Street behemoths, the 25-screen AMC Empire and the 13-screen Regal E-Walk, offer comfortable stadium seating, large screens and first-rate projection. And recently, AMC’s downtrodden 84th Street location on the Upper West Side got a major facelift in the form of reclining armchairs that rival the business-class seating on most airlines, stadium seating and, more importantly, reserved ticketing — a Manhattan multiplex first.

Meanwhile, iPic has announced plans for an eight-screen luxury theater at Lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, while several other current construction projects, including the $15 billion Hudson Yards redevelopment and the massive Essex Crossing development on the Lower East Side, are hoping to attract movie-theater tenants. All of which could mean Manhattan’s first from-the-ground-up multiplex since 2001. Still, Mundorff cautions, “Theaters are always in discussion on any project, and then the developers see what kind of rents we want to pay and often change their mind.”

But with any luck, New Yorkers may start to see a flickering light at the end of the long, dark moviegoing tunnel.

More Biz

  • Alan Horn Bill Tanner

    Alan Horn to Keynote Variety Business Managers Elite Breakfast, Bill Tanner to Be Honored

    Bill Tanner will be recognized with Variety’s 2019 Business Managers Elite Award at the annual Business Managers Elite Breakfast presented by City National Bank, which takes place in Beverly Hills on Nov. 13. Co-chairman and chief creative officer of The Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn will be the keynote speaker in conversation with Variety editor-in-chief, [...]

  • Smoke haze covers the Sydney Harbour

    Australia's Seven West to Merge With Affiliate Prime Media

    Australia’s Seven West Media has agreed a deal to acquire regional broadcast group Prime Media. The move is a further step in the consolidation of Australia’s traditional media industry. The two companies announced on Friday that Seven will make the acquisition entirely through the issue of new shares to the owners of Prime. Both companies [...]

  • Ron Meyer

    Ron Meyer Files $10 Million Suit Over Forged Rothko

    NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer has filed a $10 million suit against two art dealers, claiming they sold him a forged Mark Rothko painting in 2001. Meyer accuses Susan Seidel and Jaime Frankfort of duping him into buying the work. According to the suit, he was told that it would be included in an official [...]

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein (L)

    Harvey Weinstein Seeks to Call Expert on 'Recovered' Memories at Rape Trial

    Harvey Weinstein’s attorneys are seeking to call an expert on “recovered memories” at his trial on rape and sexual assault charges. The defense has filed a motion asking to call Deborah Davis, a psychologist and professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. Davis is a frequent defense witness. She co-authored an article in 2006 [...]

  • Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime

    Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime and Rolling Stone

    Showtime Documentary Films today announced a new limited docuseries profiling controversial rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. Titled “SuperVillain” and inspired by the Rolling Stone feature written by Stephen Witt, the three-part series will trace how a New York City deli clerk named Daniel Hernandez became superstar rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine — who racked up 2.6 billion streams and [...]

  • Fader Label Logo

    Fader Label Signs Two New Acts, Boosts Staff

    The Fader Label, home to Clairo, Matt and Kim and others, announced two new signings today along with three new hires on its staff. Charlie Burg and Zachary Knowles have joined the label’s talent roster, while Carson Oberg has come aboard as general manager, Yasmine Panah as project manager and Josh Hymowitz as label coordinator. They [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content