Mexico's Cinepolis Going First-class in the U.S.

At $17.50 a pop for adult admissions and $12 for a margarita, it doesn't come cheap.

MEXICO CITY -- Looking to resurrect the movie-going experience north of the Rio Grande, Mexican exhibitor Cinepolis is set to launch a chain of luxury multiplex theaters in the U.S. featuring first-class amenities and digital technology.

Operating under the brand name Cinepolis Luxury Theaters, the first of the high-end cinemas is slated for a July soft launch in Del Mar, California. The scheduled opening was tied in with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

Cinepolis plans to open two more Southern California locations: construction is under way in La Costa and development on a Laguna Niguel site starts in October.

Cinepolis, the world's fourth largest theater circuit with 2,500-plus screens, is internally financing the U.S. venture to the tune of about $5 million per complex as it takes over and renovates rundown theaters. Cinepolis USA project manager Carlos Wellman said that over the next two years the company plans to open five to seven complexes "in high net worth communities in California."

Modeled after Cinepolis' VIP luxury theaters in Mexico, the cinemas feature reclining leather seats and in-seat waiter service. Items on the bar and food menu include sushi, crepes, margaritas and wine. Additionally, the theaters are equipped with boothless 3D-ready Christie projection systems.

At $17.50 a pop for adult admissions and $12 for a margarita, it doesn't come cheap at a time when many folks are looking to cut back on expenses. However, Wellman and his partners firmly believe based on market research that enough people are willing to pay the price to see a first-run blockbuster film in a top-notch theater.

"People are not going to theaters here because the cinemas are really bad and they are really old," he said. "We are trying to create a new cinema-going experience."

Wellman, a general contractor, developed the luxury concept for Cinepolis with Adolfo Fastlicht and Matthew Heyman, two Harvard-educated businessmen who founded and later sold Cinemex, one of Mexico's top movie theater outfits.

Wellman said Cinepolis Luxury Theaters' main competition will come from Regency and Ipic, both of which offer a similar service in and around the Los Angeles area. 

Cinepolis operates about 140 luxury theaters and well over 500 digital screens worldwide. Here in Mexico the company has invested heavily over the past decade in building and revamping auditoriums with the latest technology.

Cinepolis recently launched three 4DX theaters in Mexico, which screen 3D films synchronized with multi-sensory special effects that allow moviegoers to experience movement, smells, wind and mist.

Wellman pointed out that some people may find it odd, especially those who have never heard of Cinepolis, that a Mexican company is striving to reinvent the cinema experience in Hollywood's own backyard.

"The first reaction we get (in the U.S.) is why would Mexicans come and show us how to do theater," he said. "But that's just because they've never been to Mexico, and if they had, they'd understand that we really know what we're doing."