A movie theater, movie theatre, picture theatre or cinema is a venue, usually a building, for viewing motion pictures ("movies" or "films").
Most movie theaters are commercial operations catering to the general public, who attend by purchasing a ticket. The movie is projected with a movie projector onto a large projection screen at the front of the auditorium. Some movie theaters are now equipped for digital cinema projection, removing the need to create and transport a physical film print.
Outside of North America, most English-speaking countries use the term cinema (but formerly spelt "kinema" and ). Both terms, as well as their derivative adjectives "cinematic" and "kinematic," ultimately derive from the Greek κινῆμα, -ατος, "movement." In these areas the term "theatre" is usually restricted to live-performance venues.
Colloquial expressions, mostly used for cinemas collectively, include the silver screen, the big screen (contrasted with the "small screen" of television) and (in the United Kingdom) the pictures, the flicks, and the flea pit (which derives from the long-standing belief that the seats were infested with fleas as they were so uncomfortable to sit on, resulting in frequent fidgeting).
A "screening room" usually refers to a small facility for viewing movies, often for the use of those involved in the production of motion pictures, or in large private residences.
Several movie studios achieved vertical integration by acquiring and constructing theatre chains. The so-called "Big Five" theatre chains of the 1920s and 1930s were all owned by studios: Paramount, Warner, Loews (which owned Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), Fox, and RKO. All were broken up as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the 1948 United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. anti-trust case.
In the 1970s, porn theatres became ubiquitous in some areas. However, the introduction of the low-cost VHS video system for home televisions has decommissioned many porno cinemas as well as many 'second-run' theatres.
People can pay to watch movies at home, through cable television or : pay-per-view (PPV) and video on demand (VOD). This may have contributed to an industry wide slump in the late 1980s (see disruptive technology), not to mention the decline of the 'Dollar Cinema' (where first-run films are pulled from circulation). The theater industry responded by building larger auditoriums with stadium seating layouts, installing more screens (to allow for more variety and more show times), upgrading sound systems and installing more amenities and higher-quality concessions. The growing popularity of high-definition television sets, along with HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc players has probably also contributed to the decline in cinema attendance. On February 17, 2009; all US television stations will be broadcast in the digital format. This could also affect US movie theaters.
Traditionally a movie theater, like a stage theater, consists of a single auditorium with rows of comfortable seats, as well as a lobby area containing a box office for buying tickets, a counter and/or self-service facilities for buying snacks and drinks, and washrooms. Stage theaters are sometimes converted into movie theatres by placing a screen in front of the stage and adding a projector; this conversion may be permanent, or temporary for purposes such as showing arthouse fare to an audience accustomed to plays. The familiar characteristics of relatively low admission and open seating can be traced to Samuel Roxy Rothafel, an early movie theater impresario. Many of these early theatres contain a balcony, an elevated platform above the theater's rearmost seats. The rearward main floor "loge" seats were sometimes larger, softer, and more widely spaced and sold for a higher price.
In conventional low pitch viewing floors the preferred seating arrangement is to use staggered rows. While a less efficient use of floor space this allows a somewhat improved sight line between the patrons seated in the next row toward the screen, provided they do not lean toward one another.
"Stadium seating" is employed in many modern theaters, giving patrons a clear sight line over the heads of those seated in front of them. Originally employed for flat-screen IMAX viewing (which has a very tall screen) this feature has proven popular with theatre patrons. The first stadium-style movie theater in the United States was the AMC Grand in Dallas, Texas, which opened in 1995.
Rows of seats are divided by one or more aisles so that there are seldom more than 20 seats in a row. This allows easier access to seating, as the space between rows is very narrow. Depending on the angle of rake of the seats, the aisles have steps. In older theaters, aisle lights were often built into the end seats of each row to help patrons find their way in the dark. Since the advent of stadium theaters with stepped aisles, each step in the aisles may be outlined with small lights to prevent patrons from tripping in the darkened theater.
See also luxury screens below.
North America's first two-screen theatre, The Elgin Theatre was created in 1957 by Nat Taylor in Ottawa, Ontario, when he expanded the 20 year old facility. Other two screen theatres opened in the mid to late-1960's, such as the Martin's Westgate Cinemas in East Point, Ga. (1965).
Taylor is credited as inventor of the multiplex or cineplex, and later founded the Cineplex Odeon Corporation, opening the 18-screen Toronto Eaton Centre Cineplex, the world's largest at the time.
Stanley Durwood of American Multi-Cinema (now AMC Theatres) pioneered what would become the multiplex in 1963 after realizing that he could operate several attached auditoriums with the same staff needed for one through careful management of the start times for each movie.
Since that time multiple-screen theatres have become the norm, and many existing venues have been retrofitted so that they have multiple auditoriums. A single lobby is shared among them. In most markets, nearly all single-screen theatres (sometimes referred to as a "Uniplex") have gone out of business, the ones remaining are generally used for arthouse films, eg the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento, California , small scale productions, film festivals or other presentations. Because of the late development of multiplexes, the term "cinema" or "theater" may refer either the whole complex or a single auditorium, and sometimes "screen" is used to refer to an auditorium.
A popular movie may be shown on multiple screens at the same multiplex, which reduces the choice of movies but offers more choice of viewing times or a greater number of seats to accommodate patrons. Two or three screens may be created by dividing up an existing cinema (as Durwood did with his Roxy in 1964), but newly built multiplexes usually have at least six to eight screens, and often as many as twelve, fourteen or even sixteen.
Although definitions vary, a large multiplex with 20 or more screens is usually called a megaplex. The first megaplex is generally considered to be the Kinepolis in Brussels, Belgium, which opened in 1988 with 25 screens and a seating capacity of 7,500. The first megaplex in the United States was Studio 28 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which reopened in 1988 with 20 screens and a seating capacity of 6,000.
IMAX is a system using film with more than 10 times the frame size of a 35mm film to produce image quality far superior to conventional film. IMAX theaters use an oversized screen as well as special projectors. The first permanent IMAX theater was at Ontario Place in Toronto, Ontario.
A drive-in movie theatre is basically an outdoor parking area with a screen at one end and a projection booth at the other. Moviegoers drive into the parking spaces which are sometimes sloped upwards at the front to give a more direct view of the movie screen. Movies are usually viewed through the car windscreen (windshield) although some people prefer to sit on the hood of the car. Sound is either provided through portable loudspeakers located by each parking space, or is broadcast on an FM radio frequency, to be played through the car's stereo system. Because of their outdoor nature, drive-ins usually only operate seasonally, and after sunset. Drive-in movie theatres are mainly found in the United States, where they were especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Once numbering in the thousands, about 400 remain in the U.S. today. In some cases, multiplex or megaplex theatres were built on the sites of former drive-in theatres.
Colleges and universities have often sponsored film screenings in lecture halls. The formats of these screenings include 35mm, 16mm, DVD, VHS, and even 70mm in rare cases.
Some alternative methods of showing movies have been popular in the past. In the 1980s the introduction of VHS cassettes made possible video-salons, small rooms where visitors viewed the film on a large TV. These establishments were especially popular in the Soviet Union, where official distribution companies were slow to adapt to changing demand, and so movie theatres could not show popular Hollywood and Asian films.
Movies are also commonly shown on airliners in flight, using large screens in each cabin or smaller screens for each group of rows or each individual seat; the airline company sometimes charges a fee for the headphones needed to hear the movie's sound. Movies are sometimes also shown on trains, such as the Auto Train.
The smallest purpose-built cinema in operation is the Cinema dei Piccoli in Villa Borghese, Rome, Italy. The Cinema dei Piccoli was built by Alfredo Annibali in 1934 in the park of Villa Borghese, and today covers an area of 71.52 sq. m (769.83 sq ft). Originally called the Topolino Cinema (after Mickey Mouse), the movie theatre used a Path-Baby 9.5 mm movie projector, bed sheets for the screen and played 78's for background music. Restored in 1991, the cinema now has 63 seats, a 5 x 2.5 m (16.4 x 8.2 ft) screen, stereo sound and air conditioning. It is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records.
A typical modern theatre presents commercial advertising shorts, then movie trailers, and then the feature film. Advertised start times are usually for the entire program or session, not the feature itself.
Thus people who want to avoid commercials might want to enter later, and those who want to avoid the trailers, again later. This is easiest and causes the least inconvenience when it is not crowded, and/or one is not very choosy about where one wants to sit. If one has a ticket for a specific seat (see below) one is formally assured of that, but it is still inconvenient and disturbing to find and claim it during the commercials and trailers, unless it is near an aisle.
Some movie theaters have some kind of break during the presentation. There may also be a break between the introductory material and the feature. Some countries such as the Netherlands have a tradition of incorporating an intermission in regular feature presentations, though many theaters have now abandoned that tradition , while in North America this is very rare, and usually limited to special circumstances involving extremely long movies.
During the closing credits many people leave, some stay till the end. Usually the lights are switched on after the credits, sometimes already during them. Some films show additional scenes while the credits are rolling.
Until the multiplex era, prior to showtime, the screen would typically be covered by the traditional curtain which would be drawn for the feature. Some theaters, lacking a curtain, occupied the screen with slides of some form of abstract art. Currently, in multiplexes, theater chains often feature a continuous PowerPoint-like presentation of slides between showings featuring a loop of movie trivia, promotional material for the theater chains (such as encouraging patrons to purchase gift certificates and group rates, or buy concessions), or advertising for local and national businesses. Advertisements for Fandango and other convienent methods of purchasing tickets is often shown. Also prior to showing the film, reminders, in varying forms would be shown concerning theater etiquette (no smoking, no talking, no littering, removing crying babies, ect) and in recent years, added reminders to silence cellphones.
Some theatres, if projection is well-equipped, have the ability to interlock, which is where one film print runs through two projectors at the same time. Once the film is threaded and loaded in the first projector, the projectionist threads the film on multiple rings that surround the nearest wall that will designate to the projector that is closer, but both projectors must be programmed in similar format to allow both projectors to run the single print at the same time. This practice is most common with blockbuster movies in the summer and sometimes winter. Pacific Theatres and AMC Theatres are two of the theater circuits that does interlocking.
In order to obtain admission to a movie theater, the prospective theater-goer must usually purchase a ticket, which may be for an arbitrary seat ("open" or "free" seating, first-come, first-served) or for a specific one (allocated seating). Movie theaters in North America generally have open seating. Movie theaters in Europe can have free seating or numbered seating. Some theatres in Mexico offer numbered seating, in particular, Cinepolis VIP. In the case of numbered seating systems the attendee can often pick seats from a screen; sometimes the attendee cannot see the screen and has to make a choice based on still available seats. In the case of free seats, already seated customers may be forced by staff to move one or more places for the benefit of an arriving couple or group wanting to sit together.
The average price for a movie ticket in the United States is $7.08
The price of a ticket may be discounted during off-peak times e.g. for matinée, and higher at busy times, typically evenings and/or weekends. In Canada, when this practice is used, it is traditional to offer the lower prices for Tuesday for all showings, one of the slowest days of the week in the movie theatre business, which has led to the nickname "cheap Tuesday. Sometimes tickets are cheaper on Monday, or on Sunday morning. Almost all movie theaters employ economic price discrimination: tickets for youth, students, and seniors are typically cheaper. Large theater chains, such as AMC Theaters, also own smaller theaters that show "second runs" of popular films, at reduced ticket prices. Movie theaters in India and other developing countries employ price discrimination in seating arrangement: seats closer to the screen cost less, while the ones farthest from the screen cost more.
Some movie theaters and chains sell passes for unlimited entrance. Some examples: :
Note that in Thailand there is the restriction of one viewing per movie, while in the Netherlands one can see any movie as many times as one wants.
Accordingly, a movie theater may either not be allowed to program an unrated film, or voluntarily refrain from that. In the US many mainstream movie theaters do not even show movies rated NC-17 ("No one 17 and under admitted"). Often, instead, an edited R-rated version ("Restricted. Persons under 17 are not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian.") is shown.
At a theater with a sold-out show there is often an additional ticket check, to make sure that everybody with a ticket for that show can find a seat.
The lobby may be before or after the ticket check, see below.
Arm rests pose a hindrance to intimacy for some people. Some theaters have love seats: seats for two without an armrest in the middle. The most modern theaters have movable armrests throughout the theater that when down can hold a food container as well as act as an armrest or partition between the seats and when up allow closer contact between the couple. Some theaters such as the Parkway in Oakland, California have sofas for greater comfort.
Movie theaters usually sell various snack foods and drinks on concession stands. There may be a counter, self-service where one pays at the counter, and/or coin-operated machines. Sometimes the area of sale is more like a self-service shop than a lobby (it is not suitable for consuming the goods), and one pays at the check-out between the shop and the area with the screens.
The facilities for buying snacks and drinks often represent the theater's primary source of profit since most of the ticket revenue goes to the film distributor (and onward to the movie studio). Some movie theaters forbid eating and drinking inside the viewing room (restricting such activities to the lobby), while others encourage it by fitting cup holders on the arm rests (on the front side of the arm rests of one's own chair, or the back side of the arm rests in front) and selling large portions of popcorn; also in that case bringing one's own food and drinks may be forbidden. Concessions is currently a huge area of expansion with many companies in the U.S. offering a wider range of snacks, including hot dogs and nachos.
Many theaters have embraced the "brew and view" concept, serving alcoholic beverages, in addition to snacks and popcorn. Some movie theaters such as the Alamo Drafthouse offer full restaurant service at one's seat, though this is not as widespread. McMenamins is a chain of restaurant/brewpub establishments in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington, many of which have full movie theaters.