Cinemark 16 plans $2 million switch to luxury recliners

HARLINGEN — It isn’t easy competing with modern living rooms when it comes to entertainment.

Fighting to maintain market share in competition with 70-inch high-definition televisions, surround-sound systems and Netflix, the Cinemark 16 and XD theater here is planning a $1.9 million conversion to tear out all existing seats in the multiplex and replace them with recliners.

Fancy seating in movie theaters has been trending for a couple of years, and is now reaching the Rio Grande Valley. A spokesperson for Cinemark said currently 37 of the company’s movie theaters in the state have been retrofitted with recliners.

“The Luxury Loungers are electric-powered recliners with foot rests and cup-holders,” said Ashten Conroy, a Cinemark spokesperson at the company’s headquarters in Plano. “They’re oversized, plush, comfortable seats — they’ll really enhance your movie-going experience.”

Conroy concedes that once the larger recliners are in place at the Harlingen property, it will mean fewer total seats are available when a popular film is shown.

“It does reduce the seat count but it’s because our footrests, when you recline, it takes up a little bit of extra space, and we want to have some space for you to be able to walk through and not be crowded,” she said.

“It gives a better experience for the guests,” she added.

A better experience for movie-goers at theaters like Cinemark’s is a must these days as the multiplexes fight upstream against a wave of no-shows when it comes to patrons.

The all-time high of 1.58 billion movie tickets was sold in 2002, and it should be no surprise since the year gave us “Spider-Man,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

But ticket sales have declined since, and they dropped to just 1.3 billion last year. They are on target to fall to 1.02 billion this year, a loss of more than one-third of total movie-goers in 15 years, according to numbers from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Total box office revenues, despite higher average ticket prices this year, are expected to drop from $11.21 billion last year to $9.06 billion nationwide in 2017.

To counter these trends, and to battle the high-tech electronic competition found in most homes and apartments these days, many theater chains are adding things like gourmet foods to the movie menu.

Selling beer, wine and mixed drinks at movie theaters is also a thing in Texas, where Cinemark theaters hold more than two dozen liquor licenses and are expanding this part of their business.

The Cinemark 16 and XD here in Harlingen has had a license to sell alcohol since 2016 but so far hasn’t used it.

That will change as early as the next two weeks, as the multiplex prepares to serve beer and wine to customers.

“There are a total of 30 active Cinemark permits, including two in Hidalgo County (Edinburg and Pharr), and one application pending in Montgomery County,” Chris Porter, a spokesperson for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said via email. “The majority of permits allow sales of beer and wine, though some also allow mixed drinks made with spirits.”

Cocktails and a movie eventually could be written into the script for Harlingen’s Cinemark 16 and XD, Conroy said.

“We do have plans to have a bar, and I don’t have a confirmed date for that, but it is in our plan,” Conroy said.

Conroy said Cinemark is committed to retrofitting the multiplex here with the Luxury Loungers and aims to finish the job by April.

“They have been very well-received,” she said of the power chairs.