The State of the Movies: What Premium Format Should You Choose?

Do you ever check the local listings for the next big movie and are stunned to find a catalog of viewing options such as standard format, 3D, IMAX, Dolby Cinema, and D-Box?

There are so many options to view movies in, where do you even start? An average consumer may be under the impression that although many of these options may provide more immersive entertainment, they also acknowledge that they are also more expensive. Today we’re going to be taking a deep dive into a few premium format options that will regularly be available. I will not only go into what makes some of these formats special, but I will also go into the average additional surcharge you’ll pay for each ticket and offer a review of the experience if I have been through it before.

3D

I probably do not need to get into what makes a 3D experience in a movie theater unique as more than likely you have been at some point to a 3D movie yourself. You all likely know it can be anywhere from $2-$4 extra per ticket, depending on the theater, for a 3D movie. The intention of 3D movies is to create a movie-going experience to make you feel as if you are actually a part of the movie. Essentially, once you place on a pair of glasses given to you before a presentation, you begin to notice the image may have more depth and will notice that images seem to be “popping out of the screen”. The way this effect is achieved is that the projector projects two of the same moving images slightly next to each other that come together when you place the glasses on and provide a more immersive but strange effect.

The relationship people tend to have with 3D movies is generally you either love or hate them. Some people can’t get enough of that theme park type of experience, but for many people, they become easily nauseous and will notice that there were not even that many effects on the screen to begin with. There was a time not too long ago where it seemed every new movie being released was in 3D, which many people really did not like. And although I liked 3D as a kid, I knew realistically it was not possible to see every movie out there in 3D. At the time though, when I did, the experience of watching a movie felt more special.

My relationship with 3D today is similar yet different. 3D is not nearly as common as it once was so not that many movies are released in the format anymore. Therefore, I really don’t find myself seeing as many 3D movies as I used to. With that being said, it is fun every once in a while getting to see a 3D movie just because it is still an uncommon movie viewing format for me. However, I am glad 3D movies are not as common because the viewing experience is much more special, and I know, given the number of movies I watch now, I would probably get sick of 3D pretty quickly.

The truth is, 3D is not suitable for every movie that is released. Studios tried to place it in every movie so they could ramp in a few extra dollars which, ultimately, caused the downfall of 3D. In reality, only select movies are made for the format.

The last 3D movie I saw was Gemini Man which also had the added bonus of being in HFR (60 fps). The results were not as bad as expected but also not ideal. I think with a bigger screen and brighter projector I would have enjoyed myself more (and I still mostly did). But the small screen and shaky cam the movie implemented made many scenes of the movie distracting in the format. Some really great recent 3D flicks I watched include Ready Player One, Alita: Battle Angel, and Aquaman. These were all films intentionally designed for the 3D experience and having the bonus of seeing all these flicks in IMAX 3D, meaning a bigger screen, made the experience even more special.

Similarly, I’ve seen some awful 3D movies recently like Venom, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and The Mummy. These movies were trying to hastily rush the 3D format onto them so they could get a few quick bucks out of unsuspecting paying customers. I think that’s the other problem I have today with 3D too; you never really know what type of movie experience you are going to get. Because of this, the consumer relationship with the format can become rocky. I think if 3D is going to have a chance to survive in the industry it needs to be shown in select films that are designed for the format. A lot of big blockbusters still look great in the format, but not every movie needs to be or should be in 3D. It seems as if Hollywood is now beginning to understand the risk that comes with showing a movie in 3D and the format is now diminishing as a result.

Even IMAX (which we will discuss soon) has decided to no longer primarily show 3D movies but rather, only do it when the quality of the presentation is good enough to justify it being presented in the format. Although I wish IMAX would play more 3D movies every once in a while, this is a smart move on their end for the sake of business. I am in the minority when it comes to 3D as I like to give it a chance but know that this is a format everyone will have a different experience with. It’s really going to come down, at the end of the day, to personal preference and mainly how your body and eyes can respond to the presentation.

IMAX

IMAX 2D or 3D is usually one of my favorite ways to go see a movie. IMAX provides an experience in which the speakers are louder than normal, and the screen in question fills the entire wall of the auditorium the movie is being projected on from wall to wall and ceiling to floor. The average surcharge for an IMAX movie is going to be anywhere from $5-6. I really love seeing movies in IMAX and have been fortunate enough to see many movies I’d like to in the format because of programs like AMC A-List and Regal Unlimited (check my blog out on subscription services), however, it may be hard to know what movie you should see in IMAX and which one you can skip if you must pay for the format. Unlike 3D, any movie you see can look good in IMAX, but some movies will look better than others. This is going to be really tough to explain why so bear with me as I go through the terminology.

The first thing to note about IMAX auditoriums is that not all auditoriums are going to have the same size screen. Some IMAX screens are significantly larger than others. These bigger screens are known as “real IMAX” and they can go on average to be about 76×97 feet which is insane. The regular IMAX screens that you may come across in your local malls (and the only ones available in San Diego at the moment, unfortunately) are only about 28×58 feet and known as “Liemax” screens. The reason for this is because they are trying to advertise the same IMAX experience without letting you know which screen is the real deal and which one is not. If you want to know if your local IMAX screen is real or not, click thislink where you can look at a list of IMAX locations. If the theater is listed as 1570/D or some other variant of that, it’s the real deal, just D means that it’s not. You may be surprised just to find how little of these screens are actually considered true IMAX screens.

With all that being said, not every movie is necessarily going to look better on a real IMAX screen anyways. Most movies that are shown in the format are merely blown up for the screen meaning that if a movie is presented in 2.39:1 aspect ratio, you’re going to get those black bars at the top and bottom of the screen as seen below. When this happens in a movie, it is known to be “letter-boxed”.

Notice the black bars on the top and bottom of this still from It: Chapter Two. This tends to happen when you see a movie shot in 2.39:1 on an IMAX screen which may be a problem for some.

If you are limited in the movies you can see in IMAX due to money and don’t know what aspect ratio a movie is presented in, here’s a neat trick to try. Open up the trailer for the movie you want to see on your phone or computer. If there are black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, it’s going to appear that way on an IMAX screen as well. When a movie is not “letter-boxed” and is instead being presented in 1.85:1, the full screen is going to be filled up when you watch a movie in the format. It is important to note though that some movies are “specially formatted for the IMAX experience.” This means that the picture size will expand from 2.39:1 to 1.90:1. That means when you see a movie in the format you’re going to have more information available to you, the viewer, on the screen. Here’s a clip from Alita: Battle Angel (which was specially formatted in IMAX) so you can see what this means.

I will clarify that many times it’s only going to be select scenes that are presented in this format but I still think it’s fun to watch. To know if a movie is formatted for IMAX or not, check the IMAX social media profiles (Twitter, Instagram, etc). The company will let you know if a movie is specially formatted for IMAX or not and will advertise for it. On a regular “LieMax” screen, these films will fill the entire screen. However, on a real IMAX screen, a movie in the 1.90:1 aspect ratio will still not fit the entire screen.

So what will fill a real IMAX screen then? To know if you should make the trip to see a movie in a real IMAX screen, again, check the IMAX social media and see if the movie is being shot and shown in IMAX 70mm film. If it is, see it in a real IMAX theater because you are going to at least get select scenes that fill the entire screen. These films were shot on IMAX’s specialty giant 70mm that specifically cater to the format and present movies in the 1.43:1 aspect ratio. This is also the reason why you might notice that the IMAX screens at science centers like Ruben H. Fleet Science Center are much larger and provide a different experience than the ones at your local malls. Those IMAX documentaries are typically presented in the 1.43:1 aspect ratio which is ideal for a real IMAX screen. It is usually rare that a Hollywood movie is shot and shown in IMAX 70mm but it does happen every once in a while in movies like Interstellar, Dunkirk, and First Man. I can give you, though, three movies to look out for that will be presented in this real IMAX format: No Time to Die, Wonder Woman 1984, and Tenet. Here’s an example from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which also used the special cameras) of what the picture now looks like.

In conclusion, is IMAX worth your time? I enjoy the format but every movie is going to be a different experience. I know I had to explain a lot of this using hard to understand film terminology, but I would recommend, if you are considering seeing a movie in IMAX, either do the test on your computer or phone to see if you notice black bars on the top and bottom of the image or check IMAX’s social media to see if they will be expanding the aspect ratio for a certain movie. Do know that every movie is going to be a different experience so make sure if you’re limited on the amount of IMAX movies you can watch to choose the right one. When you pick the right movie, IMAX can provide a really special and, I’d even argue, unforgettable movie-going experience.

Dolby Cinema

Dolby Cinema is a similar but different experience to IMAX. The biggest difference to note is that MOST screens you are going to find are not going to be tall like IMAX but instead super wide. There are some exceptions to this but most Dolby Cinema screens I’ve been to have had a wide screen instead of a tall one. Also unlike in IMAX, there are recliner seats at Dolby Cinema auditoriums. Basically, the best way I can describe the experience of watching a movie in Dolby Cinema is that you get a 4K image and reclining seats that rumble during loud scenes. The theater is also equipped with Dolby Atmos, meaning there are speakers that basically surround the entire auditorium.

It’s weird going into an auditorium and looking up above your seat to notice that it has its own set of speakers. I’m not very good at explaining this since I’m not a sound engineer, but know that the goal of Dolby Atmos is to provide 3D surround sound to give the impression that sound can potentially come from every direction of the auditorium. The only reason I don’t go to more movies in this format is that it is hard to get tickets to Dolby Cinema showings at the theater I like to go to (AMC Mission Valley). The surcharge is about $5 and I think it’s a pretty cool experience every once in a while.

I really have not had a bad experience with a showing in Dolby Cinema and I am confident you will more than likely enjoy it too. Really just about any movie you go see in this format is going to look good so I guess if you’re curious, you should check it out. The speakers are really loud, the recliners are comfortable, and the image quality is very good which makes for a very enjoyable movie-going experience. I wish there was more information I could give to you but there’s not much else to say, it’s pretty luxurious.

D-Box/4DX

I’ve never seen a movie in either of these formats but from what I understand they are very similar experiences. They both provide movie-going experiences that are complemented by moving seats and 4DX special effects (water, air, scents, etc). This has never been an ideal movie-going experience for me, even as a kid, so I never felt compelled to see a movie in this format. I also know it’s very expensive to see a movie in this format as the surcharge may be as much as $8 extra which is crazy and excessive.

I think the idea of seeing a movie with extra special 4D effects is “too immersive” for me; I think the idea is too gimmicky for my liking. I can handle 3D as it provides an interesting experience every once in a while but I feel like 4DX and D-Box may take things too far for my liking. Again though, this is coming from someone who has not even had the opportunity to see a movie in this format so maybe it’s okay. I don’t mind going on a theme park ride which has moving seats and effects because that is the expectation I have for those experiences, but in a feature film, this is going to become distracting. I guess if that sounds like your cup of tea, have at it.

Which Premium Format is Best For You?

Everyone’s preference in premium formats in movies is going to be different depending on what type of movie-going experience you are looking for. Usually, if I am going to see a movie in a premium format, I will opt to see a movie in either Dolby Cinema or IMAX because I enjoy those experiences the most. I like that Dolby Cinema offers recliner seats and 4K video quality, but I also like it when a film shown in IMAX is specially formatted for the experience allowing for more information on the screen.

If I have to recommend trying any premium format it would be IMAX and Dolby Cinema, but I would also recommend doing your own research on these formats and the movies being shown in the format to find out which one is right for you. You may want to expand your horizons and try 3D or D-Box/4DX, but just keep in mind that they may be too gimmicky for some viewers. Either way, if you’re at all curious about a format you’ve never tried, I’d say go at least one time to try it. Even if you, at the end of the day, do not enjoy the premium format that has been provided to you, it will be something unique and out of the ordinary. And sometimes something unexpected makes for the best types of adventures.

Written by: Christian Scognamillo
More info on Digital 3D:
http://www.reald.com/#/home
More info on IMAX:
https://www.imax.com/
More info on Dolby Cinema:
https://www.dolby.com/us/en/platforms/dolby-cinema.html?utm_content=buffer2298f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
More info on D-Box:
https://www.d-box.com/en
More info on 4DX:
https://www.cj4dx.com/
Follow me on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/christianscogs
Follow me on Letterboxd:
https://letterboxd.com/christianscogs/

The State of the Movies: What About Movie Subscription Services?

If you wanna go to the movies more often but are worried about price, movie subscription services like AMC Stubs A-list and Regal Unlimited might be the answer for you.

Going to the movies is one of my favorite past times. Sitting down in a dark room with all the lights dimmed down and seeing a huge movie blasted onto a large screen is a great experience. So why is it that such an awesome experience is not being appreciated nearly as much as it should be. Many people will come up with different theories like the rising dominance of streaming content in the entertainment industry and Hollywood’s need to push more remakes, sequels, and reboots onto screens but I think the reason people don’t go to the movies is because of the price.

Listen, going to the movies is great, but it’s hella expensive son! Especially for us college students, going to the movies is tough. The good news is that movie theater chains have started to notice that this could be a problem and have set to do something about it. I understand consumers may be under the impression that movie theaters should simply lower admission prices to raise the amount of profit made by a growing number of attendees, but that’s not quite how this works.

You see, part of the reason movie ticket prices are as high as they are is because most of the revenue made from movie tickets truthfully does not go to the theaters showing the movies, it goes to the studios. The whole point of tracking box office amounts is to see how much profit a movie generated while it is being shown in theaters. The little revenue theaters do make from tickets has to pay for rent, utilities, etc. so most of the funding comes from the concessions stands and even the trailers and commercials you see before a movie. You probably didn’t even realize that theaters get paid to show trailers before movies but they do. Anyways, chains have been able to introduce new subscription services to their customers to encourage higher attendance. Although the goal is likely for audiences to come back and buy more concessions, it does provide a helpful solution for audience goers who want to go to the movies often but can’t afford it. So today, I would like to discuss the choices you have currently for movie subscription services and provide reviews of some of the programs I have been a part of and offer my opinions on those I have not.

So just to clarify, no, MoviePass and Sinemia are no longer in business and unfortunately are no longer options for subscription programs.

The movie subscription service that really got everyone talking was MoviePass. When the mass found out about it, they offered a standard 2D movie a day for $9.99/month. This is insane given that the average movie ticket, at least in California, is about $14. Many consumers flocked to MoviePass for unlimited movies but found themselves in disappointment when as predicted, the business was unable to keep itself afloat.

The reason for this is that every time someone used the pass to buy a ticket, the company, MoviePass, had to pay the movie theater in question for the ticket. So instead of having you pay for the ticket, they did. It really didn’t work out as well as they wanted and I think the reason for this was because an independent company was providing the movies for the consumers. This is a very expensive business model and unless they have other sources of income to draw from, it is also unsustainable. MoviePass did try to get money from other sources as they started “MoviePass Ventures” an independent film distributor that they can take funds from, but they only released three films under the title and one of them was the critical and financial disaster Gotti starring John Travolta. MoviePass eventually forced users to pay surcharges when seeing some popular movies that would go as high as $5-6. This was problematic for users too because it defeated the purpose of having the pass in the first place. Eventually, everyone jumped ship and after several attempts to re-design their model, they eventually closed down in September of this year.

Another company called Sinemia offered a similar deal which allowed 3 movies a month that could be in any format (2D, 3D, IMAX, etc.) for around $9.99/month as well (price changed over time and depending on location). They weren’t as popular as MoviePass though and they never reached the same level of success MoviePass did. They faced many similar issues with money and also added many more charges to compensate for losses. They also went through several re-designs as well which angered many customers. In fact, it became such an issue that a class-action lawsuit was eventually filed against Sinemia claiming the service was a “bait-and-switch scheme” since they had users pay a $1.80 fee for every movie they saw. Sinemia, too, closed its service in April of this year.

The truth is I never used either of these services. They seemed too “sketchy” for me and I thought the deals were too good to be true. My suspicions were confirmed when both companies closed their doors due to the complications they faced. I also wanted a service that offered access to 3D and IMAX movies while still offering more than 3 movies a month (average a month for me is 4 or 5). I think in order for this system to work movie theater chains themselves need to be the ones offering these services. Since they are the exhibitors of the movies, they are able to make up for the losses that come with paying for movie tickets by increased sales in concessions. And that’s exactly what seemed to happen. Today there are three movie theater chains that have fully launched their own movie subscription services for consumers. Those are AMC Stubs A-List, Regal Unlimited, and Cinemark Movie Club.

AMC Stubs A-List

I think to this day AMC Stubs A-List is one of the greatest things to happen to movie lovers. This service offers 3 movies a week at $23.99/month (every territory is different). These movies can be in any format (2D, 3D, IMAX, Dolby Cinema, etc.) and in any AMC theater in the country. Knowing that an IMAX ticket at AMC Mission Valley 20 is about $20 or so, this is a great deal! You can see two IMAX movies and already save over $20 a month on movies. You can also book free reservations online, yes, you book reservations instead of purchase your tickets it’s incredible! I still am a subscriber for AMC Stubs A-List and have been for over a year. I think I’ve saved almost $200 on movies because of how many movies I’ve seen while a member of the program. And what’s great is that for a moviegoer like me, I have never felt 3 movies a week was too little for me. I now see every movie I can in either IMAX (2D/3D), Dolby Cinema, or Digital 3D simply because I can go for free. Having used this service for so long though, it does get tiring to go to the same two theaters in San Diego over and over again (Mission Valley and Fashion Valley). It is also tough because the other theaters I want to go to are difficult to get to because of their distance. It is also worth noting that you can only book 3 movies at a time. This can be a burden sometimes because I will sometimes go crazy and book multiple movies I want to see in advance just so I can guarantee I have a good seat. I think this is a great program for regular moviegoers, especially if they are college students.

In San Diego this program has done wonders for me because I can book a quick reservation, save my seat, hop on the trolley and my seat will be waiting for me when I arrive. It’s a really great service and one I recommend. With that being said, there is a 3-month commitment with the program meaning you have to be a part of the service for 3 months before canceling. Furthermore, once you cancel you are not allowed to join back for 6 months. There is also no family plan yet to share the account with someone else, which I know can be a burden for some people. I have a buddy who wanted to share an account with his brother but was disappointed he couldn’t. I believe AMC is working out a system in which multiple people can share an account and save on movies but this has not happened yet.

My only legitimate complaint I have with the program is that it is designed for mainly solo moviegoers, and although I will usually be a solo moviegoer while using the service, it can be tough sometimes to get a friend to save a seat next to me and book a showing the same time I do hopefully without having anyone book the seat you want at the same time. I recently had trouble booking my tickets for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with my friend and had to refund the seat I had chosen since the ones next to me were taken before my friend could get to it. That meant I had to cancel the reservation and get a new seat which was inconvenient. I have not had any other issues than that though. It is a fantastic service that I have been really lucky to be able to have in my life. But what about if you do not live near any AMC Theaters, what do you do then?

Regal Unlimited

Regal Unlimited is a program that could cater to fans who want to go to more than 3 movies a week. This one offers unlimited movies all month for $23.99/month (depending on the area). So yes, if you wanted to do nothing but go to the movies all day every day, you can with Regal Unlimited. There are some catches to this program to keep in mind though.

1) If you want to see a movie in 3D, IMAX, or whatever premium format Regal offers, you have to pay for the surcharge for that format and

2) If you want to book tickets online, there is a $0.50 online convenience fee you have to pay. These are admittedly lame for someone who likes booking tickets in advance and for premium showings too, but it has also allowed me to practice restraint. I now tend to save Regal Unlimited for more standard showings of smaller films for this reason.

With that being said, depending on where you live waiting to book your tickets until you get to the theater may not be an issue. The two regal theaters I like to go to in San Diego are Regal Parkway Plaza and Edwards Mira Mesa (Horton Plaza closed down which makes me sad). They both have IMAX auditoriums so every once in a while I’ll indulge myself and go to one of their IMAX showings. Parkway Plaza, in particular, is not usually very crowded so getting a ticket at the theater on the day of is simply no problem. I’ve only had one crowded showing at that theater and it has been for Rambo: Last Blood. To this day I’ve still never booked a ticket with Regal Unlimited on the app and have always opted to do it at the theater, but it is lame especially in today’s day and age to have this burden placed onto you. I just get lucky that many people don’t go to the Regal I like to go to and again buying a ticket at the theater is no problem.

This service is not as good a deal as AMC’s, but is still pretty good if you live closer to more Regal locations. The other thing worth noting is that there is a minimum 12-month commitment you must abide by if you choose to sign up, this meaning that once you sign up you’re locked in for a whole year. This initially made me think twice before I signed up as well as I wasn’t sure if I could stick with the program for the whole year. The good news is that unlike AMC, this service offers an annual payment option. That way it is no longer a burden to be paying monthly for the program since all 12 months have been taken care of. I personally paid for the service for the year and I’m already getting my money’s worth. Further, if you do choose to book tickets with Regal 1) it must be done through the app on your smartphone and 2) you are allowed 3 movies at a time, like with A-List.

I’ve already gone into how I’m not a fan of the fees the program has, but I am enjoying the service so far. You also get 10% off concessions which, although I don’t usually take advantage of it because I try to avoid buying movie theater snacks if possible, is nice whenever I do choose to buy some popcorn or candy. I’ve only had the service for a few months, since August of this year, but I have not had any issues with the app or otherwise, which is great. It is also a luxury knowing that I have more options for theaters when going to the movies than just Regal and AMC locations. With that being said though, I am not sure I will continue to use Regal Unlimited once the year has passed. I was satisfied with AMC A-List before signing up for Regal and the only reason I did was so I could have more options for movie-going locations. If you don’t mind the fees though and you live closer to Regal locations, this is still a good deal that I would recommend.

Cinemark Movie Club

I don’t know too much about Cinemark Movie Club, but I don’t think this service would be ideal for consumers who are looking to see a movie often. In San Diego, we don’t have any Cinemark locations near us which creates more inconvenience. The service is $9.99/month (depending on location) and you get only one standard 2D movie a month and 20% off concessions. The good thing is that if you don’t use one of your movies a certain month it does roll over into the next month, I just don’t see this really serving many moviegoers who want to go to more than 3 movies a month for cheap. If you just want an add on to an already existing movie subscription service and live near a Cinemark, I guess this will work for you. When I return back home to San Pedro, I live near one or two Cinemark locations, but I never was inclined to sign up for the service since it really is lacking in what it offers. But maybe if you want to see one movie a month and live near a Cinemark this will work for you.

So what’s the best option for you?

This will depend on what you are looking for and where you live. In my opinion, AMC offers the best deal but Regal has been good too. Cinemark’s club seems too limited for my liking but may work for other consumers. You’re really just going to have to take a look at every service and wonder what will work best for you and your bank account. Hopefully, I’ve been able to provide as much information as I could on each service and insight with my experiences with them. If you have any more questions about the services in question, I will be linking the info pages to each service down below for more information.

Written by: Christian Scognamillo

For more info on AMC Stubs A-List:
https://www.amctheatres.com/amcstubs/alist

For more info on Regal Unlimited:
https://www.regmovies.com/static/en/us/unlimited

For more info on Cinemark Movie Club:
https://www.cinemark.com/movieclub

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https://letterboxd.com/christianscogs/

Follow me on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/christianscogs