Hate going to the theater? Here’s how theaters are ruining the movie-going experience

  • Movie theaters aren’t doing enough to ensure that their audience is seeing a movie the way it is meant to be seen.
  • Many theaters have little quality control over things like screen masking and projector brightness, and it has begun to hurt the moviegoing experience.
  • We talked with two projection experts to help us understand what is going on inside the booth.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Which looks better? This, or that? Well, what if I told you that you may have been paying a premium to see the worst version.

You know those black bars you sometimes see on the top, bottom or sides of a movie? They occur because movies are filmed at different frame sizes, or aspect ratios. “Lady Bird”, shot in widescreen should appear differently than “Star Wars”, which was shot in Cinemascope. A Cinemascope movie on your TV will have black bars on the top and bottom, while a movie theater masks the frame with retractable curtains. These curtains at Night Hawk Cinema in Brooklyn absorb the light and create a frame around the projected image. But take away the curtains and…

Chapin Cutler: When you don’t have masking what happens is you’ve got this gray area of screen which isn’t reflecting picture, it’s not reflecting the image. It just sort-of sits there and looks ugly. There is a move afoot by some theater circuits, I guess in order to save money, that have decided that, that’s a waste of money and they’re not gonna do it.

Narrator: That’s Chapin Cutler. He’s been working in the projection and theater business for over 40 years. The empty screen space can be distracting and takes away from the immersive experience of seeing a movie on the big screen.

Another problem? Projector brightness, which can be affected by the age and cleanliness of the bulb, along with any dirt or smudges that may be on the window of the projection booth. Some “Solo” attendees reported seeing extremely dark almost unviewable projections with a few saying that they had to struggle to see what was on screen.

Chapin Cutler: If the standard that’s been established for the amount of light that is supposed to be on the screen isn’t there, then not only does the picture look dark but you don’t see anything that goes on in the shadows. All of that information disappears.

Narrator: And if there was a 3D showing in the theater before a standard 2D showing a lens meant only for 3D movies may still be on the projector making the image two thirds darker than it should be.

Joe Muto: Showing something like that with a very low light level is gonna take away from it. If that’s the experience you walk away with that’s going to impede your positive judgment of the film, and that’s just gonna ruin it for you.

Narrator: Hurting both the team behind the movie and its viewers, and possibly creating customers who may not come back to that theater for a sub-par experience.

The issues aren’t limited to “Solo.” The past few years have seen numerous reports of theaters not doing enough to ensure quality screenings. Standard 2D movie tickets average about $9.00 in the U.S. And almost twice that in places like New York City. But is the price of admission worth seeing a movie that is not being shown the way it is meant to? You can get a full 4K movie for 15 bucks. Why bother with what may be a questionable theater presentation if you can get cinema-like quality at home?

The picture may be bigger, and the sound may be better but if you’re having a bad theater experience, take note. If a theater has a dark blurry picture or leaves empty areas of the screen unmasked try a different theater. Many are still working hard to bring you the best picture possible.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2018.

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Regal Cinemas will reopen in April as new releases ramp up. Here’s how the company grew to be the second-largest theater chain in the country.

Regal Cinemas NYC
A Regal Cinemas remains closed during the coronavirus pandemic on May 3, 2020 in New York City

  • Regal is planning a phased reopening of more than 500 US theaters in April.
  • The theaters will open to play “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Mortal Kombat.”
  • In October, Regal closed US theaters indefinitely due to the pandemic and a lack of new releases.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Entrepreneur Mike Campbell started Regal Cinemas in 1989. It was headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, in an old warehouse, according to a contemporaneous Associated Press article.


Source: AP

The company’s first theater was in Florida, where Campbell renovated an already existing theater with new carpets, concessions, and screens, more than doubling its size.

GettyImages 1278628384
Regal theater.

Regal theaters grew, especially in the suburbs, and were known to be relatively upscale compared to competitors, with cafes selling cappuccinos and cookies inside. By 1995, Regal was the ninth-largest movie theatre chain in the US.

GettyImages 697106536
Regal theater.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, AP

In 2001, with nearly 4,000 screens across 328 theaters, Regal became one of several theater chains to declare bankruptcy.

Regal theater.

Source: The New York Times

In 2002, Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz became the majority owner in Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theaters, and Edwards Theaters, combining them all under the new parent corporation Regal Entertainment Group.

philip anschutz
Philip Anschutz.

Source: The New York Times

In 2008, Regal Entertainment acquired Consolidated Theatres, a movie chain with locations in mid-Atlantic states. The Department of Justice required Regal to divest some theaters in areas where it would otherwise have a monopoly.

Department of Justice Building
Department of Justice.

Regal was one of many companies to downsize in 2011, laying off many managers and projectionists to better compete with Netflix and Redbox.

regal cinemas

Source: Hollywood Reporter

European chain Cineworld bought Regal in 2017 for $3.6 billion, making it the second-largest movie theater chain in the world.

FILE PHOTO: A Cineworld cinema logo is pictured in Canary Wharf in London, Britain, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Keith Weir/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A Cineworld cinema logo is pictured in Canary Wharf in London

Source: CNN

The coronavirus pandemic hit Regal and all movie theaters hard, forcing Regal to close al its theaters indefinitely beginning March 17.

Movie theater Regal coronavirus
A man cycles past a shuttered movie theater in Times Square following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 17, 2020.

Source: Business Insider, Regal

Theaters began reopening throughout the summer according to local regulations, with social distancing measures keeping attendance low.

GettyImages 1270737505

Regal announced in October it would close all 536 US theaters and 127 UK theaters.

Regal theater.

In the press release, CEO Mooky Greidinger cited the lack of blockbuster releases that could potentially sustain theaters. The previous week, MGM pushed back the release of the James Bond film “No Time to Die” from November until next April.

No Time to Die UA

Source: Business Insider

Spiking COVID-19 cases in New York City reintroduced stricter measures for indoor gatherings. “Despite our work, positive feedback from our customers, and the fact that there has been no evidence to date linking any COVID cases with cinemas, we have not been given a route to reopen in New York,” Greidinger said.

Regal theater.

Source: Cinemark

The closures affected more than 45,000 jobs in the US and UK, and Cinemark’s share prices dropped by more than a third since the announcement.

Regal theater.

Source: Business Insider

Cineworld says a limited number of theaters will open on April 2 to screen “Godzilla vs. Kong.” Then on April 16, “Mortal Kombat” will be screened at even more theaters.

godzilla vs kong warner bros
“Godzilla vs. Kong.”

Source: Insider

Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger says the chain will be able to operate profitably in larger markets now that most states are allowing movie theaters to open to at least half capacity.

GettyImages 1305572049
Movie theater reopening.

Source: Insider

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