Lebanon’s VIP Cinemas & Empire Premiere

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Before we begin, I must insist that you all go watch the movie Amour (my review), whose poster is shown at the side of the above picture, when it’s released in Lebanese cinemas next week. It doesn’t matter which cinema you go to in order to do so as long as you watch that brilliance.

I had never been to a VIP cinema before. The idea of paying more than $10 for any movie given what our screens are is not only absur, it’s basically financially not feasible for someone like me who spends a lot of time at cinemas. Yes, I watch more movies than I actually review.

When Circuit Empire invited me to attend the grand opening of Empire Premiere, the renovated Empire Sodeco, I felt like it would be a nice opportunity to see what the fuss was all about. Before I discuss, here are some details you might be interested in:

  • The theatre involves 6 theaters, all of which are VIP-like theaters.
  • Each theatre contains about 30 seats.
  • The ticket price is $20 which includes ONLY your theatre seat. Drinks and pop corn and food are not included and must be purchased separately.
  • The food that will be available for purchase there is sushi from Achrafieh’s Le Sushi Bar. Portions will be smaller than the ones available at the restaurant itself and the price will be the same.
  • Pop Corn is supposed to be gourmet pop corn with different flavors every week of which someone mentioned zaatar.

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The most interesting aspect about Empire Premiere, to me, is their 18+ policy which means if you want to watch a movie without all those preteen fangirls, you might have a chance to.

It’s not all that peachy, however. While the project is, as you can see from the pictures, quite ambitious, I couldn’t not express my disappointment to whoever asked that such money was spent into something that, as far as I’m concerned, already exists with slight variations elsewhere, when it could have been done in investing in an IMAX movie complex which truly means a “refined movie experience,” which the new theatre’s tagline is.

After all, at least to me, a refined movie experience is less about very comfortable reclining seats and blankets and more about an engrossing screen that satisfies the craving that movies should satisfy.

The replies I got to the aforementioned points were the following:

  • An IMAX screen doesn’t fit anywhere in Beirut so the project cannot happen there. It has to happen outside of Beirut which isn’t feasible at the moment.
  • Empire Premiere differs from other VIP cinemas in it offering the lounge in question. And in the fact that the ticket is only $20 for the movie whole it is more than that in other VIP cinemas.
  • Empire Premiere isn’t only for movies but will serve as a space for conferences in the long run. It will also allow people to book entire theatre rooms for approximately $500 to watch a football game or a movie of their choice.

Why can’t an IMAX cinema happen outside Beirut? Because everything in Beirut is the answer I got: malls, cinemas, etc. Everything is centralized, which I wrote about here. So until a viable alternative location which people would go to exists, an IMAX cinema is out of the question because it requires its own multiplex and cannot be part of a mall.

I pitched in the idea of building one at ABC Verdun. Apparently their rent rates are too high for such a project.

If you think the whole concept is not really for you, you thought right. As to why cinemas keep doing the same thing over and over again (VIP, premiere), they said that market research has indicated that the category of “refined Beiruti people” aged 45-65 are barely going to the movies anymore and this is targeted more to them.

The place isn’t meant for us.

Moreover, I know for a fact that a couple of friends paid $12 for VIP tickets at CinemaCity to watch The Hobbit, which means that the $20 entry price isn’t the lowest in Lebanon.

The bottom line is: I found the experience to be super comfortable. But do I want to pay $20 for a movie that I can watch elsewhere for at least half that amount? Well, the answer goes both ways: if you have enough money and believe it’s a must for you, then go ahead. If not, then the answer is staring you straight in the face.
As far as I’m concerned, the old-fashioned cinema experience is part of every movie’s charm. But that’s just me.

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12 thoughts on “Lebanon’s VIP Cinemas & Empire Premiere

  1. i have the same thought in mind, although sometimes movie goers get really nasty and make that almost 3 hour-movie (since movies are getting longer these days) a very unpleasant experience. Yet, I’m not willing to get into that “facny” theaters and pay this much.

    Reply
  2. I won’t comment on the content because me agreeing all the time is becoming silly. But I have to say having a Lebanese blogger who is honest enough to criticize and not fish with praise just because he was invited is refreshing.

    Reply
  3. i don’t agree with you. if i have the chance not to sit with some teenagers who laugh all the time at stupid details and make you feel leaving the theater. i would be very happy to buy a ticket for 20 $, it is not a huge difference anyway.

    Reply
    • You don’t agree with me that if you can afford it and have no problem in paying $20 for a movie and you like the VIP concept then you should go for it, which is what I said in the bottom line part?

      The difference is basically $12 per ticket and $10 if the movie is 3D. That is double the price or more. And when it comes to teenagers, I was bugged by 30 year olds more in certain movies. The solution is to always get the manager 🙂

      Reply
  4. Before I get into the whole VIP cinema thing, let me state that I have recently seen Amour (I got the DVD from France when it was released last week), and I loved the movie (It did get me all depressed though, so I envy the people who found it uplifting on some level).

    Based on some pics I have seen on this post and elsewhere, I noted that there’s a small lamp on each table (probably because Sushi cannot be eaten in total darkness). Can you imagine what it would be to have all these little lights on while the movie is playing? Usually 1 or 2 phones being used in a cinema are a nuisance, I don’t want to have a bunch of lamps distracting me. Also I go to the cinema to watch a movie, not to indulge in a fancy dinner (that’s what an after-movie dinner is for). As you mentioned, usually a small complaint to the cinema staff can get annoying people escorted out (I’ve seen it happen at Citymall and ABC Achrafieh). About the VIP prices at Cinemacity, I think you might have the numbers wrong, because the most expensive tickets there are 18,000 Lebanese Pounds (not $) for a 3D ticket for the Section located at the rear of their Premiere theater (2D tickets for the section are LBP 15,000), but that’s a different kind of VIP because all it offers is a small section of slightly better seats. From a business perspective, I understand cinema operators need to maximize their profits by offering add-ons they can charge extra for, but for me, regular theaters are enough. For $20, I’d rather get a movie on Blu-ray and enjoy it in the comfort of my own home.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you liked Amour. It’s a brilliant movie and should have won more Oscars than the one it won.

      Regarding the theatre, the light is actually quite dim. I tried it out and you don’t notice it. The way the room was designed is for the dim light not to affect those who are either in the row in front of you or behind you. People in the same row might be affected but I didn’t have anyone next to me to know.

      And I agree. My idea of a night out involves movie then food elsewhere. Not movie and food at the same time in the movie theatre. And the 18+ thing is a plus definitely but it’s not something that warrants the price obviously. After all, I’d rather see more stringent movie ratings being applied. Can you believe Titanic had toddlers allowed?

      Yeah I might have it mixed up. I remember thinking it wasn’t that expensive so I’ll fix it to 18,000.

      According to the people in charge, what will bring them profit is sushi and pop corn, not the movie itself. While I doubt this, I have to say a regular theatre definitely has a wider range for revenue. After all, exactly how many people want to pay up $20 to watch a movie in Lebanon? I doubt it’s much even among those who can.

      Reply
  5. Would it be possible to leave the choice to visitors? If they wish to pay USD 20.00 in a VIP cinema, it is their choice. The cinema is not big, and therefore, it may be financially feasible to serve a relatively small segment of cinema visitors, and be still profitable — therefore the ticket price is at this level. Those, who find it overpriced, or do not like the VIP concept, can choose other cinemas – there are plenty of those in Beirut.

    “Mega” is definitely not my choice. I still remember the days of single screen cinemas, each of those had a personal touch. When buying the tickets, we choose the move and the place – it was not just entering the popcorn counter (I hate when popcorn and tickets are sold over the same counter) and looking, what’s the next and what’s free. Yes, we bought tickets in advance, and it was a real movie theatre experience, not a movie cattle herding of these days.

    Someone looks for a cosy and quiet atmosphere, someone for a low costs mass screening. Let everyone enjoy his taste. Not everything is for everybody. I do not go to football games, I do not drink in lounges, I prefer European to Lebanese restaurants,… I still do not say that those places should be closed, there are still many people, who enjoy them.

    Reply

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