Jedi-loving moviegoers experienced an off-screen twist this holiday season when taking in the latest installment of the Star Wars saga.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which opened Dec. 17, also was the debut of Celebration! Cinema’s new reserved seating system in Grand Rapids. For the first time, patrons didn’t just pay for a ticket, but for their precise seat and row in the theater, just as if they were seeing a play or a sporting event.
“Three years ago, we completed our first ‘reserved seating’ project, our new Studio C! theater in Okemos. Reserved seating means choosing your favorite seat online and it’s waiting for you when you arrive, or simply selecting your seat at the box office,” said Steve VanWagoner, vice president of marketing and public relations at Celebration! Cinema.
“The success of that project led us to add reserved seating to our Muskegon and Lansing locations. These theaters also have all luxury reclining seats or a combination of recliners and house seats. The Celebration! Cinema North Grand Rapids location converted to all (100 percent) reserved seating on Dec. 17. It also now features a combination of recliners and house seats. All five of our remaining first-run theaters will be converted to reserved seating in 2016.”
Emily Loeks, director of community affairs at Celebration! Cinema, said the chain’s location on the East Beltline installed luxury reclined seats in the front rows of each auditorium prior to the Star Wars movie.
The new seats are “wonderful,” she said, and have been installed because “people do have different seating preferences.” Loeks said that, at this point, there are no plans to differentiate pricing for seats.
“Reserved seating has been launched in three of our 10 multiplex theaters. This is for all movies and all show times. We will be rolling this out in each of our other theaters prior to the end of 2016. There is an adjustment period, but moviegoers see a huge advantage, especially on busy weekends and with big new films,” Loeks said.
Franchises and mega-blockbusters like the Star Wars series impact the business of local movie theaters for the better, VanWagoner said.
“Our theaters exist to create space where a story happens. We believe thousands of people are telling the story of seeing Star Wars with their family, friends, classmates and groups,” he said.
“This edition of Star Wars has become a cultural and industry phenomenon. Our staff worked hard to create a great space for the story to happen. So it positively impacts our teamwork, our ability to be an asset to the community and to create memories for a lifetime. We also are selling a lot of popcorn.”
The Force was strong with the film box office this holiday season.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” made $1 billion in only 12 days, smashing box office records. In less than two weeks, it’s already one of the most profitable films ever made, and a small chunk of that fortune came from West Michigan wallets.
The film set a new record as having the highest-grossing worldwide opening of all time. Pre-sale records were also broken.
“Yes, the opening week … was huge. People have been waiting for this movie for more than 30 years, so anticipation was through the roof,” Loeks said. “Our guests were calling to find out when tickets would go on sale months ago, and when they finally did, it almost brought down our website.”
Circuit-wide across its nine locations, Celebration! sold more than 183,000 tickets to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” from opening night on Dec. 17 through Christmas Day. That number includes more than 19,000 IMAX and more than 18,000 3D tickets, said VanWagoner.
With just more than 18,000 seats circuit-wide, Celebration! had 55 sellouts for the film’s opening weekend, he said, including sales of nearly 11,000 tickets opening night at its three Grand Rapids locations and the theater in Muskegon.