Changing sizes of movie theater auditoriums

posted by HowardBHaas on December 12, 2006 at 5:00 am

In the December 6th issue of In Focus magazine, the “Secrets of Size” article details why movie theater auditoriums have dramatically shrunk over time, but also explains there is a renewed construction of bigger auditoriums.

An accompanying chart provides examples of existing and former movie palaces. A graphic shows the typical seating layout of a megaplex. A seating chart of Radio City Music Hall is also provided.

They weren’t called “palaces” for nothing. The average American cinema auditorium used to be a lot bigger. In their 2004 book “Cinema Treasures,” Ross Melnick and
Andreas Fuchs lay out a clear chronology of the birth and heyday of the largest.

Muvico Theatres' soon-to-launch Xanadu megaplex in New Jersey’s Meadowlands, just four miles west of Manhattan, is expected to contain 500 more seats than Radio City Music Hall – but the Xanadu will spread its 6,500 seats over 26 auditoria.

The difference between the two facilities' utilization of the same number of seats is emblematic of how the exhibition industry has evolved generally over the last seven or eight decades. The average number of auditoria per site has been going up every year for decades, and cinema sites today average more than six screens, an all-time record.

To read more on this story, go toIn Focus Magazine.

Comments (6)

HowardBHaas on December 12, 2006 at 9:15 am

There is one mistake that I can spot: the Uptown in Washington, D.C. was built in 1936 rather than 1933. For decades it has been the greatest movie theater in the East Coast for blockbusters and for revivals of epics. It is rumored that AMC might depart it.

TheaterBuff1 on December 13, 2006 at 7:59 pm

A movie theater’s having more seats is no guarantee that more people will attend movies at that theater accordingly. I equate such thinking to the fallacy of Say’s Law, the classic economic belief that demand will always rise to meet supply. And it’s the movies themselves that determine such demand. For if the movies themselves are not a powerful draw, an increased amount of seating won’t contribute to increased attendance. Other factors that have to be taken into account, the pleasantness of the commute between home and the theater, what the majority of people can afford, the parking situation they’ll encounter when they arrive to the theater by car, and how respectfully they are treated when entering the theater. All told it is very much a balancing act when establishing what is the right level of seating. Balancing between the number of seats and those other factors. Also, there are movies that can draw a sizeable number of people for a single day, but not everyday. For that single day you want to make sure you have enough seats, but for the other days having too many seats can indeed appear to be a major drawback. So the idea is to have a lot of seats for the single day exhibition while ruling out running the movie palace daily. And maybe that’s possible, maybe it isn’t, it all comes down to how everything can be balanced out.

HowardBHaas on December 17, 2006 at 3:32 am

One point of the article was the to meet demand and to be better showplaces, new movie theaters are designing their largest auditoriums as even larger with more seats and bigger screens.

TheaterBuff1 on December 17, 2006 at 6:43 pm

So if new movie theaters are being designed this way, Howard, isn’t it of great advantage that the Boyd Theatre — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s last standing movie palace — is designed this way already? That is, without all the new construction costs that new theaters must encounter, you’re already there, home free as it were. And right in the middle of a major east coast city at that. Talk about your having it made in the shade if you just dare open your eyes to it!

HowardBHaas on December 18, 2006 at 2:17 pm

Somebody obviously didn’t read the article.

TheaterBuff1 on December 19, 2006 at 7:11 pm

Magazine articles — just as it is with major newspaper articles — can sometimes get their facts misconstrued. But with that much said, you’re right, I haven’t read the article you’re referring to as of yet. but will now make it a special point to.

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