Lebanon’s VIP Cinemas & Empire Premiere


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.




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.