Santa Monica Preps for Upscale Movie Theater Boom

Courtesy of Laemmle Theaters
Laemmle Santa Monica

Goodbye, dingy underground multiplexes. Hello, ArcLights (and reclining seats!). The seaside home to Hollywood figures finally is set to offer A-list amenities.

This story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The stage is set for a movie theater war in downtown Santa Monica.

After more than two decades without a new theater (while state-of-the-art multiplexes popped up all over Los Angeles), Santa Monica, the seaside city many Hollywood figures call home, is embracing a mass overhaul of its moviegoing landscape. The crown jewel is expected to be a new 14-screen ArcLight theater at the Third Street Promenade's Santa Monica Place that is scheduled to open in November. And all existing theaters in the vicinity are seeing major renovations, the most dramatic being the complete redo of the 44-year-old Laemmle Monica 4-Plex as it transforms into the Monica Film Center with six auditoriums, a restaurant, a lounge and a rooftop deck with an ocean view. It's set to open in May. Not to be outdone, the AMC 7 on the Promenade is in the midst of renovations to install plush power recliners in all of its auditoriums. The nearby Loews Broadway 4 will receive a similar upgrade.

That's not all. Plans also are in place to add a second ArcLight location on Fourth Street, replacing an existing parking ramp near the corner of Arizona Avenue. The second location has yet to receive final approval from the Santa Monica City Council, but officials say they are optimistic it will receive the green light.

All this activity should finally bring top-tier moviegoing experiences to those who actually make the movies shown. Curiously, Santa Monica has for years lacked a state-of-the-art theater. Studio sources say the new ArcLight venues could pose serious competition for The Landmark at the Westside Pavilion and for Century City's AMC 15, the dominant players on the Westside. "My wife and I go to The Landmark — that's just what you do," notes David Martin, director of planning and community development for the city of Santa Monica. "What we'd like to provide is the modern type of theaters so people stay here in town."

But more theaters doesn't necessarily mean increased capacity. Martin says once the dust has settled, the city will have fewer seats because luxe recliners and amenities take up more space than traditional seats. The decrease matches an industry trend that has seen the focus switch from quantity of tickets sold to increasing the luxury of the experience with expanded food and beverage options.

ArcLight Cinemas' Gretchen McCourt, executive vp cinema programming, declines to offer specifics on the proposed second ArcLight site, but she says the locations at "Santa Monica Place and the surrounding vicinity of Third Street Promenade will be terrific new additions as we continue to expand in Los Angeles and beyond."

AMC spokesman Ryan Noonan says his company welcomes a boost in theaters in the underserved neighborhood. "We understand competition is a good thing and it drives people to come out in numbers. It ultimately benefits everyone," says Noonan.

Martin adds that the theater boom actually could bring people from the rest of L.A. to Santa Monica, citing additional draws like AFM: "It will be the Hollywood of the Westside."


Playa Vista Theater Invades Silicon Beach

Just south of Santa Monica, another theater battle is brewing. On March 12, Cinemark opened its high-end NextGen multiplex in Playa Vista at the Runway, a new development on Jefferson Boulevard courting the Silicon Beach crowd. The nine-screen theater boasts self-service concessions in the main lobby and a cafe and bar upstairs. There's also a VIP section in the back of each theater and a large-format XD auditorium. The new multiplex will pose competition for two AMC locations in Marina del Rey, the Dine-In Theater Marina 6 and the Marina Marketplace 6. Sources say AMC is asking Hollywood studios for a "clearance," meaning AMC won't play a first-run movie that's being shown at Playa Vista. It's up to studios whether to grant the request. (AMC declined comment.) Less than two miles away, Cinemark operates another multiplex, the old Rave at the Howard Hughes Center, many of whose patrons live in nearby Baldwin Hills. Is the area big enough for all the theaters to thrive?

The Cinemark