Best known for its architecturally memorable, globally recognized landmark, The Cinerama Dome, the Pacific Theater Chain’s footprint is relatively modest – – home to approximately 300 movie theaters, mostly in Southern California.
The larger chains – – AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld – – make up the lion’s share of the approximately 15,000 movie screens dotted across malls, cities and villages in the United States.
Despite its relatively small scale, the failure of the Pacific Theater Chain carries tremendously symbolic relevance for those that work in the entertainment industry.
Filmmakers from John Chu and Barry Jenkins, to Quentin Tarantino and Julia Roberts have already gone to social media to mourn the chain’s financial failure, both because many treasure the Cinerama Dome itself and the memories it specifically holds and the Arclight Theaters generally, for consistently exhibiting (and thus supporting) an enviable mix of art-house cinema with mainstream, popcorn fare.
Locals, such as myself, loved the Arclight movie-going experience as one could usually expect to be greeted with ushers, concession workers and ticket-sellers who were obvious fans of the movies – – and the fun was equally, if not more enhanced by the communal feeling that one was watching movies with fellow cinema lovers, people who rarely checked their phones, or talked during the films and often applauded during and after a movie they loved.
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Well known movie stars, filmmakers, writers, directors, studio and network executives frequented the movie chain, along with every day cinema-goers who shared a common passion: film.
My first experience at The Cinerama Dome was to see Coppola’s masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. The last film I saw there: Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
While many are already mourning the financial decision Pacific Theaters made, here are 5 Predictions of where the cinema experience goes from here:
a. A Studio (or a partnership of Studios) will buy the chain, re-brand it and show their fare exclusively
This scenario makes the most sense, as the Arclight movie houses are beloved in Los Angeles, the key market to predict future film success not only in the U.S. but often around the world. Studios are now allowed to own theater chains again, for the first time since 1948 when it was outlawed, and I predict a studio, or a partnership of studios, will buy up Pacific Theaters and keep The Cinerama Dome not only open, and will, if they’re wise, maintain its amazing name.
b. A Streamer will acquire the chain
While it’s more likely an existing studio will take over, as they’re much more familiar with the exhibition business than the streamers are, it would make good sense, on a publicity level alone, for Netflix NFLX , Amazon AMZN or Apple TV Plus to make a splashy announcement with this acquisition. The streamers have all assured subscribers that they not only believe in the cinema experience, they support it. Acquiring a smaller movie chain like Pacific would be a strong sign of goodwill, not only towards the Hollywood community, but to subscribers at large.
c. One of the major, existing movie chains, will acquire it
Even though Pacific said they had exhausted all options when deciding to shut its doors, any future buyer knew that the terms would be much, much better for them if they simply let Pacific go out of business, rather than seeking to bail them out or partner. AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld are all better funded and more equipped to make the most out of this historic opportunity. Another famous movie house – – Grauman’s Chinese Theater – – has experienced at least three changes of ownership since it opened in 1927. Ownership of chains can come and go; iconic movie houses like the Arclight Theaters and The Cinerama Dome, specifically, carry an inestimable value for the right owner.
d. A Movie Star, or Team of Movie Stars, will save it
As unlikely as this scenario is, it’s not unprecedented. Quentin Tarantino saved The New Beverly Cinema before it nearly closed its doors, and that movie house, as significant as it is, pales in comparison to the sentimentality that acts as a powerful halo not only around The Cinerama Dome, but the entire Arclight chain. While a long-shot, there are enough extremely wealthy A-list stars – –
the cast of the Oceans 11 movies alone could probably keep the whole thing afloat – – that don’t want to see this chain go under.
e. All of the Pacific theaters, including the historic Dome, get demolished and the land is instead used for business and pleasure more aligned with our “at home” future
The truth is, the cinema experience as we know it, is likely doomed.
While it isn’t going to disappear entirely, it will become a “nice to have” option for the populace, versus the “must have” it was through much of the 20th century.
Look forward to much more expensive tickets and far fewer movie houses, more like what happened with live theater and Broadway.
It will become a very exclusive, “night on the town” experience.
Covid-19 proved many things and one was that audiences seem to be just fine with consuming their entertainment at home, with improved screens, sound and a library of content via streaming that they could never hope to ever actually get through.
A changed relationship with movie theaters, along with an already drastically dropping percentage of Americans going out to the movies annually, (the average was 3-5 times a year) strongly suggests that cinema attendance will continue to falter.
My hope is that any scenario but the final one will be embraced, but it’s the last one I mentioned, not only because it’s the biggest bummer, but also, because it’s the most likely.