Movie Dates in Toronto Are Fancy Again…But We’re Probably Over It

This isn’t the first time someone has discussed this in Toronto; we acknowledge that this piece is somewhat of a sequel. But it’s one of those big sequels, like The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, or Bikini Carwash Company 2.

The characters are pretty much the same but this time, it’s getting real cray up in here.

On one hand, you’ve got an activity that has been getting consistently more expensive for 20 years without offering much marginal allure besides technical leaps in the content itself and the occasional six degrees of additional seat recline.

It’s not the 1930s, which means nobody is impressed by colours anymore, and as web-based technology becomes more accessible, few grown men with salaries are excited about being pressured to shower before watching a Harry Potter movie.

On the other hand, movies are fun. Sounds simple but it’s basically the best thing they have going for them.

And if we’re going to burn cash on them, why can’t we at least get a fun experience out of it? If we’re allowed to spill beer on a kid’s head at a Blue Jay’s game, why can’t we order a Pinot Noir during a Woody Allen flick? Well, the movie people are finally giving us what is rightfully ours.

There are now five Cineplex VIP theaters in the GTA and another in London, Ontario. These VIP theaters are Rated R (patrons must be 19 or older) and include full bars, full food menus, pimped out lounges à-la-Montreal Supper Club, and chunky leather seats strategically paired for couples.

And this is all we’ve ever been asking for.

Rather than “going to the movies at night for a date”, we finally have a “date night” with a movie embedded in a larger, more attractive, more engaging experience.

The problem is, the product seems to be driven by financial desperation rather than what the market is willing to digest. Sort of…

Based on US numbers, 2014 is on track to being the lowest year for number of tickets sold since 1995. But on almost the same number of tickets sold, revenue has almost doubled and the average box office pull for the year’s top earning blockbuster has increased by over 40%. In other words, relatively fewer people are going to the movies but the people that are going look like they’re willing to spend a lot. So the industry is jumping on that. The question is, how close has “a lot” gotten to “too much” given our entertainment alternatives?

If you went to a VIP movie on a Friday night in Toronto (ticket prices go up $5 each on weekends), here’s what your tab might look like, without tax:

So taking advantage of the new swank-factor, if you grab drinks as you normally would, spring for “dinner”, and like most people, react to movie popcorn like it’s buttered crack, you’re out a brown-note.

Again though, because conceptually, we’re paying for the architecture of a date night, not the contents of a cinema. But that might not matter anymore…?

To be honest, the VIP experience is slick and it is attractive. Having a beer while you watch an action movie is awesome. It does feel like a night out more than a night in. It doesn’t look like the carpets were designed by a psychedelic gypsy and thanks to comfier seats, you no longer have to worry about getting gout after a long movie. But in Toronto, we’re kind of like a virgin who woke up in Amsterdam; a 5 seems like a 10 if we can get our hands on it, and when we do, we’re compelled to be thankful. There’s a broader reality to this.

Given everything to which we now have access, what’s so fancy about drinking wine while you watch a movie? What’s so attractive about age-exclusivity and modern lighting fixtures in a movie theater? How is that stuff going to pose as stimulating in a city where people have HBO in their pockets, dozens of new bars and restaurants open every week, and even clothing stores come with a Cafe and a barber shop.

The movies might have already missed the boat.   

There’s a chain of movie theaters in the US called The Alamo Drafthouse. They started in Texas and have now spread to Omaha, New York, Virginia, and Los Angeles. They offer exactly the same thing our VIP theaters do. The only difference? They have an old school, show-up-in-sweatpants vibe to them and tickets are $10 all the time…and they serve direct-to-seat throughout the movie…and a pint of Guinness is $5.50…and they offer fresh-baked cookies…and they have eight pizzas on their menu…and they have a brunch menu.

It’s great that going to the movies can be swanky and kind of cool again in Toronto. But part of the fun of being a VIP is actually being treated like one, not simply spending like one.  

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