Dollar Movie Theaters

After one of the hardest weeks in my professional career, The Wife and I decided to take tonight off from any job or business responsibilities and go out on our weekly date. Planning on a “dinner and a movie” evening, we started by going over to Sweet Tomatoes, an all-you-can-eat soup, salad and pasta restaurant. After getting sufficiently replete with salads that resembled rainbows more than they did plates of food, deep kettle chili, and ice cream (because, you know, ice cream is a salad related… food… dressing… thing…), we started to head over to the movie theater to finally watch Chronicles of Narnia.

Normally when we go to the movies, we go to the big Ultramegaplex 24 (whatever it’s called). It’s 20 minutes away, but it’s one of those with the ultra-plush reclinable stadium seating, which makes it seem like the drive and price are really worth it. Truth be told, it usually is, especially if we’re planning on watching a multi-million dollar special effects extravaganza sci-fi flick. This time, having just gorged ourselves on more spinach, carrots, and “Joan’s Broccoli Madness” than we really should have, we were too full after the meal to drive that far. Instead, we decided to check out the tiny 8-plex movie theater just around the corner from our house. We had never been there, so we were a bit curious about it. And, after all, we were seeing Narnia, which, although a multi-million dollar special effects extravaganza fantasy flick, was one of those we felt we could enjoy more for the story than for the special effects. (Thank God for those. I’m tired of going to a movie just to watch someone’s multi-million dollar CGI wet-dream parade across the screen without any actual substance.)

It being Saturday night, we knew we’d probably be surrounded by teenie boppers in whatever theather we ended up at. We also knew for a fact the Ultramegaplex was a hotspot for high schoolers during the weekends, but we didn’t know about the local 8-plex. As we found out, apparently this is where the younger kids hang out, before they graduate to the Ultramegaplex: we were at least 13 years senior to the rest of that evening’s movie-going public.

“Two tickets for the 9:40 Chronicles,” I told the teller. “Oh, and two senior discounts.” This made the teller chuckle, then look at us and nod knowingly.

We still didn’t get the discount.

The theater was definitely small by today’s standards, especially in an area like Fort Lauderdale. (I said it was an 8-plex, right?) Like in most other movie theaters, by far the most prominent feature here was the altar of popcorn and candies — otherwise known as the concession stand — to which everyone coming in was expected to pay tribute. To its right and left were hallways leading to the various theaters.

As we gave our ticket to the ticket taker he informed us that our theater was “theater 8, last on the left.” 7 seconds later, there we were.

By now it was 9:06. We knew we’d be early, but I guess we didn’t exactly realize how early. Our movie started at 9:40, so we had plenty of time. This gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery a bit. As we stood outside our theater’s door (and next to the door where King Kong was playing), we started talking about years past, where theaters like this were not the exception, but rather the rule. We also started talking about the last time we each were in a theater like this. (Not together; strangely enough, we’d never before been to a small theater like this together.)

For her, the last time was when she was at a small dollar theater by her house. A new, bigger theater had opened up not too far from that one, in the mall, and it wasn’t long before the older, smaller theater went from being a full price venue to a buck a movie. This offered her a chance to go to the movies more often, especially on her high school budget. Coincidentally, this was the same theater I saw Star Trek: Generations when it first came out. (Yes, I dressed up. As a Starfleet officer. I didn’t have the money at the time to go Klingon or Borg.) This was a few months before the theater went to dollar movie mode.

For me, the last time was also at a dollar theater. This one was in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and I had gone with my then girlfriend and her friend. We had planned to go to another theater, but after realizing that we had a total of $4.50 combined, we figured this was the place to go for theatrical goodness.

The theater was exactly what you would expect a dollar theater to be like: lack-luster lighting; extra prominent concession stand, flanked by the doors leading to the movie rooms; popcorn all over the floor; not many people there, patrons or staff; and the only movies offered were martial arts movies. (Actually that’s not true. There were other movies there — I don’t remember which — but we ended up watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) Having only four screens, this theater was extra small, even by dollar movie standards. Still, this was Wisconsin, so I suppose that shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

Strangely enough, one thing I’ve always dreamed of is running my own small dollar movie theater, one that would look just like the regular-priced theater The Wife and I were standing in. It’s not something I’d really care to do for a profit, though that would be nice. (Besides, I find that theaters make for great writing.) It’s more of a wish I’ve always had in the back of my mind, to own a small theater, maybe a dollar or discount theater where I could show old martial arts movies, foreign movies you wouldn’t normally see in the US, popular movies which have just come off the main theaters, or even independent films, so long as they weren’t about gay cowboys eating pudding. As I found out tonight, it turns out I’m not the only one thinking about that (buying a theater, that is, not gay coyboys eating pudding): the wife’s also thought about the very same thing. Who knows, if this theater, which is literally 5 minutes from our house, is ever for sale, maybe we can scoop it up. Again, although I’d be looking to turn a profit this would be more of a “hey this is cool” sort of thing, and therefore not a high priority in my list of acquisitions.

As The Wife and I looked around this hallway and reminisced, we noticed that everyone from the last showing had already left. We walked in to the movie room and it was like walking into the past — a big, empty past. The room looked like the most basic of movie theaters imaginable: rows of non-stadium seats, non-reclining seats with burlap instead of leather, and cup-holder arm rests that didn’t move in seats that weren’t made for fat guys. We stayed in the back of the room for a while, waiting to see if anyone else would come in. For what seemed like forever, no one did. Frankly, I didn’t like that part one bit.

Like most people, The Wife enjoys the idea of having the theater to herself. As for me — well, I’m just not a big fan of that. To me, being in an empty movie theater is like going to a mall where most of the stores are closed: spending too much time there is depressing and totally drains the life out of me. Neither going to empty malls nor to empty movie theaters are things I enjoy. In fact, I remember the first time I went to a movie where no one else showed. My mom had taken my siblings and I to watch the Silvester Stalone movie Oscar. The theater we went to was one we hadn’t been at in a while, but one we, especially my grandmother, always loved going to. (Truth be told, I couldn’t tell you why we liked it so much, I just know we did.) We went on a Saturday afternoon, and as we walked in, I noticed this place was a lot quieter than I remembered it being. We went into the movie room, picked our seats, and waited. By the time the movie started we noticed no one else was coming, so we decided we’d sit wherever we want to: my brother went one way, my older sister another, and my younger sister just stayed close to my mom. I went and sat a few rows ahead, propped my feet up on the seat in front of me and tried to relax.

“Tried” is the operative term here. Although I enjoyed the movie — somewhat — I didn’t enjoy the feeling of being alone in the theater. In fact, while my siblings loved it, I hated it, and I never wanted to do it again.

So there it was, 9:30, and finally a few people showed up to watch Narnia. A few minutes later, a few more people showed up. A minute later… you get the point. People started trickling in (if that). Figuring that the theather might actually get somewhat full (it didn’t), The Wife and I picked out our seats about this time, deciding on two seats, four rows from the back, since we both like the view from back there. (It’s like being at my parent’s place with their massive 55″ wide-screen TV.)

When the movie started, a grand total of 15 people (at most) were there. This was perfect for me, since there were enough people to make the room not feel dead, but not enough for it to become annoyingly tight. (After all, these seats weren’t big like the stadium seats. Heck, their arm rests didn’t go up and their seats didn’t recline.)

After the watching Narnia, which I highly recommend, we didn’t take much time in leaving, but made sure to take in the sights in the process. After all, we don’t know when the next time we’ll be at a theater like this again. With the frequency with which we go to the movies, maybe never. Unless I buy and run one, that is.

18 thoughts on “Dollar Movie Theaters

  1. Lol, never really took the time to appreciate the smaller theaters. Big screen, big speakers….That sound test they do and then announce that the audience is now deaf.

    Thats the movie going feeling i enjoy.

  2. *L* Sadly almost all the theaters here in boring old La Crosse are now dollar ones! *L*.. you can see a movie almost anywhere for $3.50.. *L*.. and the cheap theather is now $1.50 on week nights and oh no.. a whole $2.50 on weekends! *L*.. talk about good old small hick towns!

  3. Small hick towns is right, that’s where you’d expect most of them to be. Stragely enough, you don’t see many dollar movie theater is small Florida hick towns. Heck, towns in the middle of nowhere like Florida City just plain don’t have them. You mostly see them in the inner city, where a real theater has for some reason failed, probably because it doesn’t have stadium seating and 20+ screens. (Even the 20 screen ones are starting to be considered “small.”)

    One would think that with the average income of the average floridian being something like $25,000/year there’d be a lot more “dollar” (or two-dollar) theaters.

  4. How would you like to make your dream come true and go into business as a partner in a one screen movie house in Cohoes, NY? I am serious. The Treater has been empty since 1973 but is in the historical part of the city and is eligible for all sorts of grants. I am going to the Mayor of Cohoes and the DA of Albany County to see aobut getting this project started. If you would like to know more, write to me.

  5. Hey, Roxann: thanks for the offer, but at the moment I’m not looking to buy a theater. I’m currently involved in other business ventures, so I’m not in a position where I can simply up and go. However, I thank you and very much appreciate the offer.

  6. oh my do i envy you! here in new york city the average price for a ticket is 7.50, and that’s only if your 11 and under, for the same movie, i’d have to pay nearly 12 dollars! (which is like 2 hours of babysitting) ah well, it’s not too big of a price considering the other parts of living in the city, though it’s always nice to hear about small hick towns =]

  7. Fort Lauderdale is a small hick town? Really? Even with a metro area of 5.5 million? I mean, sure it’s no New York, but that ain’t small. (LaCrosse, Wisconsin on the other hand, has a grand total of under 75,000 in its metro area. I consider that small, though I’ve been in smaller.)

    Most regular theaters here will run you about $9 per ticket as an adult, give or take a dollar.

  8. hey could you be ever so kind to tell me what the name of this dollar movie theater you went to was in Ft. Lauderdale? I’m around that area and I haven’t seen a dollar movie theater at all around here. It would be nice if you could let me know. thanks. I actually stumbled across this looking for a dollar movie theater! thanks.

  9. Unfortunately, it’s closed. Closed down about… I’d say about 1 1/2 years ago. I forgot the name already–never really called anything other than “that theater”–but it was behind the plaza that was just south of the Broward Mall and the Barnes and Noble. (Same plaza as the Sweet Tomatoes and the Chilli’s off of University, just north of 595.)

  10. I actually still go to the drive-in and love it. I live just outside of Detroit, and we still have 1 drive-in left, the “Ford-Wyoming”. It has 9 screens, speakers that hang on your window or you can tune it in on your radio. It also has electric in-car heaters for those cool, cuddly nights. $9 for an adult gets you 2 movies, or you can drive to another screen like I do and see another ( just don’t get caught!). Nothing beats the good old fashioned drive-in!!

    1. You know, I’ve never been to a drive in. The last one around here closed a few years back. Your description, however, makes me wish I hadn’t missed out. Thanks you!

  11. I’m actually a manager at a discount house theater in Indiana. We do amazing business, it’s strange to hear of other theaters failing, when we are thriving. And your description of “dollar theaters” is spot on! We are quite old fashioned. Neon lighting to boot!

  12. I use to live in New london, Wisconsin. An when I drove tot he city of appleton my wife an I always went to Valley fairy Mall, the mall is gone but the theater remained. It plays movies for four dollars max An they play a lot of recent movies. The snacks r a little pricey but when u r asked to pay 10 dollars just to get into a movie in florida I would rather it come out on video. I like a lot of ppl long for the day of drive Ins. If i had the money to invest thats what i would do. The atmosphere was great, two movies for 8 or 9 bucks, good snacks. Just a great place to b. I miss that small hick town for the simple movie prices i guess like a lot of things in the world they r just becoming obsolete

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