My Slow Boycott of Regal Cinemas

Jeff Alworth

Here's what I did Wednesday night: I went to a movie theater, paid $3.75 to get in, and  bought a pint of Beamish Stout (County Cork's finest!) and a slice of cheese pizza.  All of this for around ten bucks.  Once inside the theater, I enjoyed my beer and pizza--and the company of friends--without being hammered by the incessent commercial drone of Regal Cinema's diabolical 2twenty.  And here's the real kicker--I was there for the opening night show of King Kong

This magical place is the newly re-opened St. Johns Cinema and Pub.  It might as well be one of the other several first or second-run independents around town, all of which offer a similarly pleasant experience. 

They stand in sharp contrast to what has beome something just short of torture when I go to a Regal Theater.  If you happen to get there before the 2wenty, you are subjected to promotional Regal radio--partial clips of the most ghastly teen pop Clear Channel has to offere, followed by a plastic announcer promoting the song.  In the lobby, flat screen TVs run constant ads in a loop.  And for this nightmare?  You now pay nine bucks for a regular show, or six for a matinee.  (Matinee mondays?  Long kaput.)  Let's not even get into the price of popcorn and soda--at least those are optional.  Meanwhile, Regal keeps raising their prices, even as their product becomes demonstrably worse (movie goers are abandoning the theaters in greater numbers each year). 

For more than a decade, I've indulged my movie fandom by catching a Friday late matinee after work.  Before Regal bought out Act III and garnered an effective monopoly, I was joined by throngs of Portlanders at these shows.  You had to show up early--sometimes an hour early for movies with big buzz--and the theaters regularly sold out.  Not anymore.  I'm not alone in skipping the scene.  Now movies occasionally sell out at Regal, but more often I'll look around and see only a handful of masochists.  Regal has to keep raising their prices and subjecting us to ever more advertising to keep pace with their dwindling audiences, which of course causes them to dwindle further.

I've almost completely switched away from Regal.  Porltand has fantastic indies--first and second run--and they mostly serve beer and food at prices cheaper than Regal's popcorn and soda.  Admission's a lot cheaper, and they don't subject me to the nightmare barrage of ads.  My occasional relapses are usually provoked by the handiness of downtown theaters, but I'm always punished for them.  Over time, I hope to ween myself entirely. A word to the wise, though--if you go to an indie, get there early.  Regal's old throngs have found them, too.

[Update:  I should have listed the Indies and given some links.  Here they are (you can add more in the comments)

Cinema 21, 616 Northwest 21st
Cinemagic, 2021 Southeast Hawthorne
Clinton Street Theater, 2522 Southeast Clinton
Hollywood Theatre, 4122 Northeast Sandy
Laurelhurst Theatre, 2735 East Burnside
- Bagdad Theatre, 3702 Southeast Hawthorne
- Kennedy School, Portland, OR 97201
- Mission Theater, 1624 Northwest Glisan
- St Johns, 8203 North Ivanhoe
Moreland Theatre, 6712 Southeast Milwaukie
Northwest Film Center, 1219 Southwest Park
Roseway Theatre, 7229 Northeast Sandy
St Johns Cinema & Pub, 8704 North Lombard]

  • (Show?)

    Happen to know of any such theaters out here in the Gresham area, other than the Mt. Hood Theater? We go to that one sometimes, but they show movies that are within a week or two of coming out on DVD. I'm looking for something that does the brand new movies.

    We often have just enough time to go to the movies, and that's it. So driving across town to get to a theater isn't likely to happen. But if there's something out here, I'd happily abandon the $6.25 matinee at Regal to go somewhere else. Somewhere that treats you nicely, preferably doesn't make you stand in the 28* temp to get tickets, is cheaper, has affordable food, etc. $7.75 for a medium drink and a hot dog? Give me a break!

  • (Show?)

    We almost never go anywhere else for first run mainstream movies. I'd like to see more people discover the St. Johns Twin Cinemas to make sure they stay in business.

    They do nice things like special matinees for school kids too.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    Jenni--The Roseway on 72nd and Sandy is about as close as you'd get to Gresham and it is a wonderful independent theatre that has first run films.

    I went to a Regal for the first time in a couple of years and had forgotten how awful they are. Just the physical environment of the screening room (one hesitates to call it a theatre) is such that I thought I was going to be shown a grainy black and white educational film on VD.

    Sunday matinee--two adults, two kids, two bags of popcorn, one candy, four small soft drinks. $43.

    I suppose the one good thing is that Regal is such an egregious outfit that it allows the independent houses to thrive.

  • Steve (unverified)

    My vote is for Cinetopia in Vancouver, I realize he charges a premium, but he starts the movie at promised times (w/o commercials) and tries to find quality viewing fare. Plus you can drink quality wine in some of the theaters.

    I'd love for the guy to make it, since I am not a big movie guy and going to Hell-plex 28 for the Madonna Film Festival or Rocky 9 (sorry, I lost count on the re-hashes) on the franchise is not real heartening.

    Maybe if we all get pickier, Hollywood will realize they need to put our original and interesting fare.

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    I hate to encourage anyone to travel to the sss (soul sucking suburbs) but the Cinetopia in Vancouver was pretty nice. We were the guests of some Vancouver friends so I don't know exactly how expensive it was, but we had a great time and had some great wine and food to consume during the movie. Thanks for the tip on the St. Johns place, we will try that next.

  • (Show?)

    I should ring in, too--Cinetopia rocks. It's only marginally more expensive than Regal (theater depending), and the experience is like the anti-Regal.

  • Skip from Gresham (unverified)

    Hmmmmmm.....I find Regal theaters perfectly OK.....not great but OK. They are considerably cleaner and better maintained than mostof the independents named above.....and in the case of a couple on the list, Regal's are FAR safer.

    Now....if they'd only serve a good IPA I'd have it all.

  • Adventuregeek (unverified)

    Since I got a home theater projector with a 92" screen I haven't set foot in a Regal Cinema. When a new movie comes out I just add it to my Netflix wait list and when it's released on DVD and it shows up in the mail. There's been no movie since LOTR ROTK that I felt I HAD to endure the Regal Cinema torture experience to see before it can out on DVD. Of course afterward I regretted seeing ROTK at Regal; commercials, loud people and the sound dropped out several times.

  • (Show?)

    Back in the day, we lived about ten blocks from the Roseway. I've gone there once, when the movie they were showing was one I wanted to see, and that criteria having been satisfied, the place rocked. I'd go there again, if only...

    Anyway, I was one of the early adopters of the DVD player, and while I insist on seeing every Harry Potter and every Star Wars in the theater (even, ahem, Regal) I'm a big, big fan of 1) the available food selection, 2) the ability to control my viewing environment down to the nth detail, 3) travel distance and 4) the price. It has more than paid itself off, even at the exorbitant early adopter rate.

    I wish you luck, Jeff, and urge you to remember that for a slightly larger investment, you'll never miss a Regal again.

  • Pete (unverified)


    What do you mean "safer"? I have not heard of any problems at any of those theaters. Could that be another case of suburban hysteria, the "dirty, unsafe downtown" vs the clean homogenous "safe" suburbs. The Regals in the downtown are in some of the same areas that the independents are located. I saw Corpse Bride this weekend at the Laurelhurst for 3 bucks (matinee). It was clean, the people were quiet and behaved just as in any movie theater and my seat and leg room was huge.

  • (Show?)

    Yea, I bought a DVD player back in 1997. It cost quite a bit (nothing like the $50 I paid a few months back), but it was worth it. They even threw in a whole bunch of DVDs for free.

    However, sometimes I want to see a movie when it comes out. And I also like to take my toddler to a movie sometimes. Until this week the only movies I'd seen in over 3 years were the Pooh Heffalump movie, Chicken Little, and Farenheit 9-11.

    But now there were several movies I wanted to see.

    Harry Potter and Narnia are two I wanted to see on the big screen. Even a nice big projection screen can't compare to seeing the dragons on Harry Potter in the theater. Besides it'll be a long time before 1) we have a place big enough, 2) we have the money to buy one.

    Brokeback Mountain I really want to see as well. Normally I'd wait until it came out on DVD, but I want to throw in our $12.50 (my sister and I) towards its total theater take. Why? Because I love watching the anti-gay groups be wrong about how well the movie will do. They said it wouldn't do very well, as "gay movies" usually only pull about $600K. The movie almost did that in its first weekend-- on 5 screens. No other movie this year has been able to do that, and no adult drama has ever done that. It pulled a few million this last weekend. I hope the movie does really well and shows that groups like Focus on the Family are wrong-- the U.S. is not anti-gay, just a small population.

  • suburban princess (unverified)

    I live in the Soul Sucking Suburbs and I think Skip from Gresham's "safer" comment is asinine. Regals may be cleaner and have better sound (in general), but there are plenty of Regals in the so-called "unsafe" urban areas too. They are just as clean (and the 2wenty sucks just as bad) as the suburban theaters. I go to where a movie is playing, whether it's Lloyd Center or Evergreen Parkway.

    Personally, I like the Century theaters. No god-awful 2wenty and way better food selection than Regal. Theater pubs are excellent for dates or dinner while watching something you only kind of wanted to see, but I still like the big chain theaters for the big movies.

  • (Show?)

    You know, I'm kind of surprised that the big theater chains haven't started having fast food restaurants, a pizza place, etc. in their lobby. All they'd have to do is pick something they could get a franchise with, but also carry popcorn, nachos, and hotdogs.

    I'd much rather sit there and have a burger than a wimpy, lukewarm hot dog. Or a slice of pizza. I'd be much more willing to buy food at a theater if they did that. Right now if we're limited by time, we grab something at a local fast food restaurant. When we have time to spare we eat at a restaurant.

    And I agree with the suburban princess-- I go where the movies are. Often times it's meant going to Lloyd Center. I've seen more movies there than I have at either of Gresham's Regal theaters.

  • (Show?)

    On the "safer" comment. I have no idea how to address this. I've always found movie theaters to be among the safest places in the city--Regal or otherwise. "Cleaner" is also a strange comment. In some cases, the facilities at Regal are newer, but their floors are just as sticky and their seats as likely to have crud on them. I don't equate new and clean particularly. And in the case of that St. Johns cinema, it's the newest and cleanest in the city--AND it's first run, AND it's half the price, AND you can get food and beer there. No contest!

    (But the second run and repertory theaters are just as safe and clean, to be clear.)

  • Able-Allan (unverified)

    What's a "2wenty"

  • (Show?)

    If I found the correct bill, House Bill 2485, Wirth did indeed vote against it, along with:

    House: Carried by Krieger,Macpherson. Passed. Ayes, 55; Nays, 4--Butler, Kropf, Nelson, Wirth; Excused, 1--Lim.

    Senate: Carried by Beyer, Burdick. Passed. Ayes, 25; Nays, 5--Carter, Deckert, Nelson, Walker, Westlund.

    I'm not sure what the other bill was, as I had a hard time locating another bill dealing with meth that was approved. All the others said they were in committee upon adjournment.

  • (Show?)

    Darned it.... stupid tabs. ; )

    That's what happens when you do too much when you're tired-- you post in the wrong place.

    2wenty is the ad show that Regal runs before a movie starts. I saw it for the first time during Harry Potter. They ran a long piece on The Exorcism of Emily Rose. While that movie is also PG-13, I found it very inappropriate to show before a movie aimed at kids.

  • Wayne (unverified)

    I agree corporate cinemas suck. But consider this. In Seattle, independent theatres are virtually nonexistent. Landmark theatres, a respectable international arthouse chain, has a tight hold on this market but provides less fluidity than Portland's indy market. I think Regal's monopoly in this case is partly responsible for the independent's viability. Regal will never try to make a buck on the variety our local cinemas provide. Regal is also a Goliath soon to topple in the next 5-10 years. Who will replace them and where will Portland's cinema market go then? Our movie scene is yet another unique attribute to this city yet vulnerable to the inevitable growth that is coming. Go to Seattle, compare it's past theatre scene with today and see if that's where you want Portland to go.

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