On a recent Tuesday morning at the Broadway Multiplex Cinemas in Hicksville, Christina Cuevas and her son settled in for a matinee of "Guardians of the Galaxy." Sodas in hand, they made themselves comfortable. In fact, they were nearly lying down.
Cradled in a plush, Barcalounger-style recliner, Cuevas had her legs fully extended in front of her, as did her son Rico, 10. "You can put your arms out and really relax," he said. His mom, a kitchen and bath designer from East Meadow, agreed. "We're not so much moviegoers, so this is a plus," she said. "It's like being at home."
That may be exactly what the theater industry, which has been facing steep competition from home-video offerings like Netflix and video-on-demand, wants to hear. On May 5, the National Amusements theater chain announced it had installed cushy, almost fully reclining seats in all 12 auditoriums of its Broadway Multiplex in the Broadway Mall. The seats provide leg support and tilt back to a roughly 45-degree angle. Though they stop short of a fully prone position, they're about as close as moviegoers can get to sprawling out on their sofa.
Larger seats, fewer people
The revamped Broadway Multiplex is part of a nationwide trend that could be called the Great Seat War. Over the past few years, the movie industry has tried to lure theatergoers by upgrading the movie experience -- larger screens, 3-D glasses, better sound. Thanks to higher ticket prices, overall box-office receipts rose last year, but fewer people actually went to the movies, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Admissions last year fell by about 1 percent, or 20 million.
To get homebodies back into theaters, attention is shifting from the screen to the seat. Bow Tie Cinemas recently began adding leather rocking seats to its venues, including at its Chelsea location in Manhattan. AMC Entertainment Holdings, the country's second-largest theater chain, reportedly plans to spend about $600 million over five years to install recliners in 1,800 of its nearly 5,000 screens. National Amusements has revamped two locations, in Hicksville and Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, with more planned.
The bigger seats are a counterintuitive move. For decades, theater chains rushed to build multiplexes with as many seats as possible. But the Broadway's spacious recliners -- they measure roughly 34 inches wide -- have reduced the venue's seating capacity dramatically. Auditoriums that once held 200-330 seats now hold 50-100. What was once a multiplex with more than 3,000 seats now has fewer than 1,000. What's more, the theater has not raised its ticket prices. National Amusements says ticket sales at the Broadway have increased but declined to say by how much.
Check it out
So what's it like to watch a movie in one of these seats? We tested one and found the experience pleasant and civilized. Upright, there's enough room to cross your legs wide without bothering anyone. The armrests are nice and fat. In a thoughtful touch, there are three cupholders for every two seats, making drink space plentiful.
A toggle button on the seat's inner panel triggers a virtually silent motor that unfolds the recliner in two stages. The leg rest emerges first, then the seat tilts back. Even while fully reclined, you have so much aisle room that latecomers could scoot past you almost unnoticed. If anything, you're so far away from the rows behind and in front of you that the communal feeling of being in a movie theater gets a little lost.
Is all this added comfort enough to correct the slide in attendance? Cuevas, the infrequent moviegoer, is certainly sold. "It's great. You don't have anyone kicking your seat," she says. "We won't go to any other theater."