Three years after the pandemic forced a number of theaters in Los Angeles to close up shop, the city is suddenly teeming with new openings and renovations.
Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas opened one of the world’s only dine-in IMAX locations in Inglewood in July; Amazon renovated and has been operating The Culver Theater since December 2022, which is doubling as a first-run theater and home to some of its Prime Video premiere events. Landmark, which shuttered its famed location on Pico last year, opened a new theater on Sunset in June; Quentin Tarantino’s Vista Theatre and Netflix’s Egyptian Theatre are both undergoing renovations — with The Egyptian planning to add a LED billboard to its roof, causing more than 4,000 people to sign a Change.org petition in opposition — and set to open before the end of the year. The beloved ArcLight Hollywood and Cinerama Dome were also expected to open in 2023, but updates have been limited since it closed in April 2021 (owner Decurion Corporation did not return THR’s request for comment).
“I think it’s shockingly optimistic. Who knew coming out of the pandemic that suddenly the arthouse cinema and independent cinema scene in Los Angeles would be as thriving as it is?” says Maggie Mackay, executive director of Vidiots, which in June opened its own theater alongside its new video store in Eagle Rock, after the female-led film space was forced to close its Santa Monica location in 2017.
Vidiots seats 271 people inside the renovated Eagle Theatre, with two to three screenings a day ranging from old art house classics to recent blockbusters. The showings are consistently sold out, as Mackay admits, “The response has been well beyond what we imagined” — on top of renting out roughly 1200 movies a week at the video store and hosting a handful of industry screening events.
“What we said we wanted to do was create a space for the community — see the real community reflected in audiences, see the diversity of our communities in those audiences and up on the screen,” she continues. “We wanted to see kids and families and teenagers coming on their own and all of those things are happening. We look at those audiences, it is exactly what we set out to do.”
Cinépolis’ theater in Hollywood Park has seen similar early success, after becoming the first theater to land in Inglewood in almost 30 years. It features 12 screens, curated food offerings and a high-end lounge and sports bar, opening just in time to benefit from Taylor Swift’s recent six nights at neighboring SoFi Stadium and the upcoming NFL season.
“We were not expecting to be as successful as we have been — we weren’t expecting to have as many people as we’re having in the lobby and just people coming for a drink or to have dinner or lunch,” says Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas CEO Luis Olloqui, while also acknowledging the benefit of the “Barbenheimer” craze. Olloqui notes the unique Inglewood community response as well, saying, “If you go to other cities or places where we have opened theaters, it’s more like ‘OK, a new theater is great’ and they’re really happy. But this, you really feel that it was their theater and they took ownership of it and that really is exciting.”
On the other side of theater news, the Winnetka Pacific Theatres multiplex location in Chatsworth is being demolished, with plans to build a Tesla delivery hub and service center. And Westwood’s iconic Fox Village Theater is up for sale, with the Regency Theaters lease expiring in July 2024 — Newmark Capital Markets, who holds the listing, tells THR it is aiming for $17 million-plus on the building (that also includes nearly 7,000 square feet of retail space), which has never previously been made available for sale.
Nevertheless, these investments in L.A. theaters prove that people do want to return to cinemas, but have been limited by logistics and a lack of options in their neighborhoods, Mackay says: “The myth that people stopped wanting to go to the movies or stopped caring has been really dangerous. I think it’s much more about how unaffordable it got, how complicated it got to go to the movies. It just got harder, not because people didn’t want to do it.”