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A rundown of every major theater chains premium screen options

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IMAX, 4DX, Cinemark XD, PRIME, and more!

Going to the movie theaters isn't actually getting any easier. Well, it is in some ways. AMC and Cinemark have their own subscription services and Regal is experimenting with some pricing shifts, so it is easier to get a ticket and go more often. However, there are now a crap ton of options for how to view each film and its tough to know which one to choose and why in the hell you're paying upwards of $30 for a single movie ticket. 

Movie theaters are having to come up with new ways to get everyone into them. With home theaters and streaming platforms eating into their profits more and more there has to be a reason you come to the theater. And so the rebuilding began. If you live anywhere near a metropolitan area the chances are you live near a plethora of movie theaters that have been renovated in the last five years. These renovations delivered newly branded theater experiences. Better pictures, sound, and seating are all included in this, but there are now multiple ways to watch every movie out there and it can be a bit confusing to decide what's the best choice.

So here's a quick run down of all your options at the three largest North American movie chains: AMC, Regal, and Cinemark. We're keeping it at these three because that's where most Americans see their movies, though many of the experiences we're discussing are actually on offer outside of these companies. 

70MM


What is it?

The OG of specialty cinematic experiences, it still doesn't get any better than this. 70mm film is, well, film, for one thing. The picture is crisper and more striking than even the best digital can grab, and there's a reason the best director working, Christopher Nolan, shoots his epic films with it, and then forces an entire industry to capitulate to his screening rules to the point that they need to release explanatory documentation. It is simply breathtaking in its visual quality. Originally used solely for epic films that needed a grandeur and fidelity that 35mm couldn't offer, it's use is even more limited now. Sadly, most theater chains are strictly digital now so you can't just go out and see a 70mm film anywhere. Art houses and science museums are keeping it alive, while "branded" IMAX cinemas do their best to replicate it in digital. 

Availability

Limited. If you're not near a major city that features a plethora of museums or independent theaters dedicated to screening older films you're going to have a lot of trouble finding one. Then again, almost nothing is filmed in 70mm anymore so hunting down a theater is only really necessary once every few years when a film releases in it.

Actual experience

Seeing a film in 70mm easily lives up to the hype. If you ever get a chance to screen something like Laurence of Arabia on an original 70mm print pay whatever it takes to do so. Most theaters projecting in 70mm care enough about the sound that that shouldn't be an issue, and while you won't get the luxury seating most of the time your eyes are going to be to happy anyway to care.

IMAX


IMAX, in its original state, was less of a theater experience and more an entire filmmaking process. IMAX film is massive -- big screens, big film, big projectors -- and special IMAX cameras have to be used to create it. Any child growing up in the 80s or 90s pretty much thought of IMAX as the big theaters in science museums where you could watch To Fly!, which seemed like the only IMAX movie there was for about a decade. Now, however, the format has become more popular with film makers thanks to digital technology. It's still rare to find an actual IMAX theater, however. Most of the IMAX experiences you see are simply branded IMAX films (more on that later). A true, legit IMAX theater has the ceiling to floor screen with an aspect ratio of ~1.4:1, which is far more square than your normal theater. They also have stellar sound that's routinely calibrated by IMAX. These theaters need a ton of space and it isn't worth it for a chain to build one and so you still only see them in museums and specialty theaters.

Availability 

Check your local science or natural history museum.

Actual experience

A real IMAX experience is pretty moving -- literally. The screen is so large and you sit so close it encompasses nearly all of your visual space, meaning your body can be tricked into thinking your moving by your eyes. The effect is greater in films shot specifically for IMAX that have a lot of motion in them, but you can get it any time. Visually, it's as crisp and clear as 70mm film, just a crap ton bigger. If you've seen any of Christopher Nolan's films in IMAX you can instantly see the difference from when they used standard film to shoot one scene and then it switches over to IMAX. It's truly a riveting experience, though theaters can range from fancy and new to horribly dated.

Digital IMAX/IMAX with Laser (Branded IMAX)


What is it?

OK, now we're going to get a little complicated. See, around 2008 IMAX decided that it wanted to make some more money and thanks to digital projectors it could. The company basically started to sell the brand to theater chains using their new digital projector technology and proprietary sound system. This led to upgraded theaters with large screens and impressive sound, but they weren't actually IMAX theaters as we'd come to know them, partly because the digital projectors couldn't keep the traditional IMAX ratio. These digital theaters are still the majority of IMAX screens that you find in chains, and also screen IMAX 3D movies.

Then in 2012 IMAX released their new 4K IMAX with Laser projectors, which use dual projectors to successfully mimic the traditional IMAX proportions of 1.4:1. They also offer a cleaner, crisper image than the digital projectors that's more in line with a traditional film IMAX's picture. All this is to say that IMAX branded theaters are not actually IMAX theaters, but they still offer superior sound and visuals to your standard theater. Depending on your theater the IMAX screen may have reclinable seats, but it is not a given.

Availability

All three major chains feature IMAX screens now, but knowing if they're 4K with Laser or basic digital can be tough to track down. Most theater chain's screens, however, are basic digital IMAX. If you're looking for 4K with Laser projectors they're usually in specialty theaters and museums. Most newer IMAX screens that aren't Digital IMAX now use the 4K with Laser projectors, not IMAX film, and even some of the older IMAX theaters are converting over now. 

Actual Experience

We'll have to break this up into two experiences. First, 4K with Laser is legit as all hell with only those who have a love for film able to complain about it. The picture is as crisp as the film version with only that slight digital feel to let you know you're not watching film. For most folks, that's not a big issue. It lives up to the hype. What doesn't always is the theater you'll be seated in. Like with the film IMAX many theaters can be dated since museums aren't always looking to renovate.

Digital IMAX is not true IMAX, that just needs to be made clear. That being said, branded IMAX screens are still usually the biggest one in any theater and the picture quality is still the best I've seen out of a digital projector, and if a film was filmed using IMAX cameras it's going to look brilliant on the screen. Definitely worth it for the extra ticket cost.

RealD 3D


What is it?

If you see a movie at a big chain in 3D it's either RealD 3D or IMAX 3D. So RealD 3D is basically any movie that is screened in 3D in any theater. If you haven't seen a modern 3D movie (because you missed all of cinema the last ten years), the technology has come a long way since red and blue glasses. It cane be an utterly amazing experience when a film is shot with the idea of being projected in 3D, but after the surge in popularity over the last ten years the trend seems to be waning. Directors have stopped shooting for 3D and production companies simply convert major films into 3D after the fact so they can up-charge on the ticket price. We won't see 3D go anywhere, as it helps theaters and Hollywood make more movie off of ticket sales, but know that most filmmakers are not shooting a film with 3D in mind. 

Availability

Wherever digital theaters are. Most theaters have a compatible projector now so if you see a 3D screening than your theater has it. 

Actual Experience

This one really depends on the theater. Since RealD 3D has been around so long now and they only control the projector, not the sound or seating, you can be in some really stale theaters. The picture quality is on par with most digital projectors but, you know, in 3D. The experience can also vary wildly depending on how good a job the post-conversion into 3D was done. This was more of a problem in the past when they were forcing non-3D films into 3D but there are still movies that look worse because they're forced onto 3D. When a film is shot for 3D and directed for 3D it can be magical on the big screen.

PRIME at AMC


What is it?

This is AMC's base-level upgraded theater "experience" that they launched themselves. That's not to say it's bad, but it's upgrades aren't the top of the line. There's better digital projectors in PRIME theaters that have sharper images and colors, which are most likely what all digital projectors will be in the coming years. On top of that PRIME theaters have updated sound systems that, again, are just the next upgrade in theaters being renovated. Finally, PRIME theaters have AMC's recliners in them, meaning you get to watch the movie in whatever state of reclining you'd like. We probably, however, won't see too many more PRIME theaters being built as AMC's partnership with Dolby (see below) has taken over most of their premium theater options.

Availability

PRIME at AMC is currently in 19 theaters across the US. You can find a full listing here.

Actual experience

It is an obvious upgrade from your standard theater. The screen and images are dark and crisp, and the sound system is stronger than your standard theater. Then there's AMC's leather chairs, which are legit comfy AF. Definitely worth the uptick in price if you're seeing a movie that warrants big sound and crisp pictures.

RPX


What is it?

The Regal Premium Experience (RPX) is not only the first of Regal's attempts to bring back the late-90s/early-00s trend of putting an X in everything to make it seem more extreme, but also their basic theater "experience" as well. Regal has less "experiences" than AMC so this is kind of also their only non-IMAX upgraded experience that doesn't involve moving seats or some other gimmick. An RPX theater has upgraded picture that Regal brags about, but the real draw, the company says, is the uncompressed sound from the speakers. Most high-end theaters aren't playing compressed sound, though, so I'm not sure that's a true selling point over other theaters. Movies can be in 2D or 3D, which is a bonus, and Regal has reclinable chairs in some theaters, though they aren't required in an RDX theater.

Availability

If branding is consistent on Regal's full list of movie theaters there are currently 104 theaters that feature RPX screens in the US. You can find them by heading to Regal's theater page and doing a search for RPX. 

Actual experience

These are on par with PRIME in our experience visually. While many of the newer theaters have reclinable seats its not a guarantee here as sometimes they simply converted older theaters with a new sound system and projector, which kind of stinks when the price is more. The sound is probably on par with the Dolby theaters, a cut above PRIME, but that might not be something you notice.

Cinemark XD


What is it?

Cinemark XD is Cinemark's premium theater offering, which comes replete with THX certification on their 11.1 channel surround sound speakers. Why they don't advertise that fact by calling it Cinemark THX is beyond me, since the THX name holds so much clout with audiophiles, but they don't. They're actually the only chain with THX certification in their premium theaters, which should count for something. Cinemark claims their state-of-the-art projectors can deliver 35 trillion colors on a ceiling-to-floor theater screen. Seat quality varies, but they're all upgraded. You'll either be sitting in Cinemark's "Luxury Loungers" or nicer traditional movie seats.

Availability

Cinemark has been expanding the XD brand since it launched at it is now in 144 theaters across the U.S. You can search for them here

Actual experience

Who knows? No one on staff has been to one. We'll get there eventually and when we do we'll update this space.

Dolby Cinema at AMC

What is it?

AMC is all over the place with branded theater experiences so they don't just stop at their PRIME offering. The next step up (or over) is Dolby Cinema at AMC, which is basically Dolby, the speaker system that a ton of theaters already use, trying to get in on the branded theater experience by partnering with AMC. The theaters emphasize sound quality and volume, since speakers are what Dolby is known for, but also feature exclusive recliners and an upgraded projector system. Dolby claims that the projectors show off a revolutionary amount of contrast and deliver true blacks like never before. The theaters also have a unique look to them with red lighting in the speakers that makes you feel like you're walking into a spaceship or something (the lighting goes away during the film). 

Availability

Dolby Cinema at AMC dominates the "experience" screen count with nearly 127 screen across the U.S. You can find a full listing of them here.

Actual experience

Yea, that true black is actually true black. There's no grey-ish tinge to the screen when black is shown and it's really quite a nice view. They do this little comparison thing that shows the "old" cinema versus Dolby Cinema and it's striking. It is probably a pretty doctored comparison but it still looks great. The sound is amazing too, but the crank it up to 11 so if you don't like your seat literally shaking from explosions this one might not be for you. The recliners are nice but their controls are a little awkward.

BigD at AMC


What is it?

And another AMC premium "experience" enters the ring. It may seem weird to have three separate but kind of the same premium theater experiences on offer for viewers but this one is at AMC because of a merger. In 2016 AMC bought Carmike theaters and subsequently inherited their BigD theaters, thus a third premium offering but it's not clear if this one is going to expand any further. The theaters feature floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall screens with massive sound systems. The projectors in these theaters are top of the line and offer large format films in insanely crisp HD. The audio system is "supported by quad-amplified speakers and subwoofers" -- whatever the hell that means. BigD theaters feature "deluxe" seating, which means poofier chairs, but not recliners. 

Availability

BigD theaters are mostly at old Carmike theaters, which have all been rebranded to AMC Classic theaters. There's 30 theaters with them and you find a full list here.

Actual experience

Who knows? No one on staff has been to one. We'll get there eventually and when we do we'll update this space.

4DX


What is it?

Now we're going to start getting weird. Theaters are beginning to branch out into odd realms and changing exactly what a theater experience is. The first we're tackling is 4DX, which is basically an amusement park ride where the seats move but you're watching an action movie. 4DX theaters feature moving seats, fans, flashing lights, water sprays, and a host of other things that turn the movie into something more akin to a Disney ride, which is kind of appropriate considering the stranglehold Disney has on popular cinema at the moment. The theaters feature upgraded sound systems as well. This stuff is so interactive that they literally have a contract you're agreeing to by buying the ticket. It is definitely a revolution in movies but it isn't clear if its a revolution people actually want.

Availability

4DX is growing pretty rapidly, and is most predominant in Regal theaters, with AMC and Cinemark not having any. In the past year Regal has added a bunch of them so from their initial launch of only a handful there are now 17 across the country. You can find them listed here. You can find a full list of 4DX theaters here.

Actual experience

It's a ride: the seats actually lift and move just like a ride at an amusement park, there are little fans blowing wind on you from below the seat and behind your head, there's shaking, the strobe lights flash every so often, and water squirts out at you if there's a need. You can turn the water off, by the way, but overall imagine that... for two or more hours. Here's the thing, those rides at Disneyworld are at tops 30 minutes. Two hours of movement and shaking is 90 minutes too much even if the seats are only really moving during the action sequences. It's fun to try this once but repeated screenings seem pointless.

D-BOX


What is it?

D-BOX is another brand like IMAX. They sell their moving seat technology to theaters who then brand the theater as a D-BOX theater. Both AMC and Cinemark theaters have D-Box seats (one would assume Regal does not because they have 4DX). D-BOX is "only" a moving seat, meaning you're just getting movement and vibrations out of it as the movie plays. The seats are slightly bigger than your standard theater seat and offer a bit more padding. Oddly, there are D-BOX equipped theaters where only a few rows are D-BOX seats and the rest are normal. There's no upgrade in sound here.

Availability

Despite being around for nearly a decade D-BOX hasn't really spread that far. It's available at 11 Cinemark theaters, which you can search for here, and 11 AMC theaters, which you can find listed here. Since it's a brand not associated with a specific chain you may also be able to find it at a smaller U.S. theater chain.

Actual experience

Who knows? No one on staff has been to one. We'll get there eventually and when we do we'll update this space.

ScreenX


What is it?

ScreenX is the answer to the question every kid has ever asked: What if I put three TVs next to each other and somehow made one movie show on them. ScreenX is a brand (coming from the same South Korean company that created 4DX), but Regal cinemas has the most in the US, and immerses audiences in a movie by extending the around them to the side of the theater. It's a bit hard to describe in words but you can watch this video to get an idea of what's going on. Some movies are actually shot for ScreenX but more common is simply a film shown stretched across the three screens. The format has been gaining speed over the years, and where it used to be relegated to concerts and foreign films you can now find a pretty regular stream of Hollywood blockbusters being shown in ScreenX theaters. The sound system and seating aren't especially promoted by Regal but any ScreenX theater is pretty modern and should have decent seating and sound too.

Availability

Given the immense amount of reconstruction needed to build a ScreenX theater and the fact that most movies aren't developed for it there's only a scattering of theaters in the US. Regal has 12 theaters with the technology right now. You can find them listed here. You can also find a list of all ScreenX theaters here.

Experience

Who knows? No one on staff has been to one. We'll get there eventually and when we do we'll update this space.

The VOID


What is it?

A bottomless pit unto which non-believers a flung to fall for all eternity as their soul is torn apart by the beings that live there... or a VR experience. This one is a bit of a cheat as it's also a standalone VR experience, but Cinemark is investing in VR and has opened one in one of their theaters. As an example of how theaters and theater companies are adapting and changing it's definitely the most obvious so we're keeping it. What does it do? Basically, you head to a VOID location and you and some friends (or strangers) put on a big ol' VR helmet and a VR vest and enter a room. The difference between this and VR at home is that the room you're in is built for the VR so that you can walk around, touch a wall and it's all reflected in the VR experience. The vest your wearing gives you feedback as well, and you may be carrying VR guns or blasters. There's also actual wind effects and even smells. 

There are currently four VOID "experiences" in existence: Ralph Breaks VR, Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment, and Ghostbusters

Availability

While The VOID is a Disney-backed company in and of itself, Cinemark is the only theater chain in the U.S. currently using the technology, or really pushing VR in general. They have one location in West Plano Texas. with plans to open more in the future if that is succesful (Cinemark also has a VR thing called SPACES planned). However, there are non-theater VOID locations as well. You can find them all listed here.

Actual experience

Who knows? No one on staff has been to one. We'll get there eventually and when we do we'll update this space.

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Matthew Razak
Matthew RazakEditor-in-Chief   gamer profile

Matthew Razak is the Editor-in-Chief here at Flixist, meaning he gets to take credit for all this awesome even though its really the rest of the amazing staff that gets it done. He started as a c... more + disclosures


 


 



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