Movie wars II: Carmike fights back with $1.50 flicks
The recent opening of the Stonefield Regal 14 has hit Charlottesville movie theaters like a tidal wave, with the 4-screen Regal Seminole already closed and the downtown Regal becoming an arthouse. In an effort to stay afloat, the Carmike 6 will soon drop its ticket price to $1.50.
Carmike manager Raymond Kilburn admits he initially felt indignant after reading a recent Hook article in which Vinegar Hill owner Adam Greenbaum predicted Carmike's demise. But after visiting the Stonefield Regal, he felt differently.
"I almost had a heart attack," says Kilburn. "It's gorgeous."
Now he predicts that studios will insist their movies play in such stunning spaces.
"We've been here 20 years," says Kilburn. "We can't compare with the new theater."
That's why he's trying the second-run movie model, which he thinks will appeal to large families, college students, and the elderly– all of whom may wince at paying $10.50 for regular tickets or $17 to visit Regal's Imax cinema.
"I've seen $100 movie nights," says Kilburn. "Why pay $17 when you can get in for $1.50?"
Charlottesville hasn't had a discount cinema since the Jefferson stopped showing movies for $3 in the spring of 2006, and some question the viability of the business model in an age of Netflix and streaming video. Kilburn, however, says that seeing film on a 15-inch laptop is a poor substitute for the shared-experience of the big screen.
"Comedy is never as funny watching it alone as it is with people," says Kilburn. "The magic of the movie theater is never going to go away."
Still, challenges remain. Carmike stands in the Gardens Shopping Center near the vacancy-plagued Albemarle Square shopping center. And Kilburn says Carmike will still have to pay $3,000 to screen a film, which means he needs more moviegoers paying the discount price than ever before.
But after two decades of drawing moviegoers to its just-off U.S. 29 location, Carmike already has name recognition, and he's betting that bargain-minded film lovers will feel like they're getting a good deal.
"We're digital," he notes, "so our movies will look crisp and beautiful."
Kilburn also touts his food combos and discount popcorn buckets, and says Carmike will have three things going for it when it starts selling $1.50 tickets on Black Friday, November 23: "We are better priced, we have better customer service, and our popcorn tastes better."