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Universal Studios Hollywood shows off its new CityWalk movie theaters

February 2, 2017, 4:18 PM · Universal Studios Hollywood is putting the final touches on an ambitious refurbishment of its CityWalk AMC movie theaters, creating one of the more inviting places to watch a film in the wildly competitive LA market.

Universal invited me and a few other reporters to tour the theaters this morning, guided by Fernando Pa, Senior Director, Design and Planning of Universal Creative, which oversaw the redesign. The project has changed completely the look and feel of the theaters, which now feature reclining leather seats throughout.

CityWalk theater seats

"We wanted to make the guest feel like a director, screening a movie," Pa explained, pointing out the "black box" look of the theaters. "Everything should be about what's on the screen, with no distractions around you."

To show us how the theaters put those images up on its screens, Pa took us into a couple of the projection rooms, to see the theaters' digital 4K Christie RGB Laser projectors in action.

Christie RGB Laser projector

The switch to larger, leather seats means that the theaters no longer offers as many seats as they did before. The largest non-IMAX theater seats just 176 patrons, but the reduction in quantity allows a definite upgrade in quality, with far more comfortable seats and an improvement in bottom-level sight lines. (Long-time patrons of the CityWalk theaters should note that the reduced capacity will make it more important than ever to buy tickets in advance for high-demand showings.)

But it's outside the screening rooms where Universal makes its claim for LA-area moviegoers.

CityWalk movie theater lounge

If you didn't buy your ticket online, ticket sales now are handled inside ("concierge style," as they say), with no glass window between you and your cashier. And with all reserved seating, there's no rush to get to your theater to claim the best seats. Even though that's become standard at many local theaters, fans still always seem end up crowding narrow aisles around theater doors at other theater complexes, waiting to get into their showing.

At the CityWalk theaters, Universal instead provides open, comfortable seating lounges for patrons to wait for their show. Universal's also brought in costumes and props from current films for display, but instead leaving them in the lobby, they are placed throughout the lounges, further helping to encourage the crowd to spread around the facility.

Movie costumes

Concessions are handled through AMC's "food court" style, without individual serving lines. A 21-and-up "Director's Lounge" cocktail bar dominates the upper floor, where moviegoers can order drinks before or after their show.

CityWalk AMC Theaters Director's Lounge

I love how Universal subtly calls back to its production logo with the chandelier and mural in the lounge, which recreate the logo's "sunburst" moment, without ever using the words "Universal." Subliminal branding, FTW.

But what about the cost? A quick check of ticket prices for tonight's showings found seats going for $17.75 for adults, compared with $15.50 a ticket for the Pacific Theaters at the nearby Americana at Brand in Glendale. That's a $2.25 increase for better seats, more comfortable lobby, and what should be a better visual experience, too. You'd pay the same $17.75 for seats at the Arclight Hollywood, and those offer narrower cloth seats that don't recline. (But there's none of AMC's, uh, "pre-show" there, so that's your trade-off. Yet if you just hang out in the lounge until the commercials are over at CityWalk, you're back ahead.)

CityWalk's theaters offer a $5 parking rebate on Universal's $10 after-5pm parking rate, and a $15 rebate on its before-5pm $20 general parking, making the final parking charge to see a movie $5 either way.

What's your favorite place to watch a movie in LA?

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Replies (13)

February 2, 2017 at 7:22 PM · My favorite place is the AMC 16 near the Burbank mall. Tickets are $15, they have free parking, and a bar inside. And if you don't like their movie or showtime selection, there are two more AMCs within walking distance. I live right by CityWalk, but have never seen a movie there. I imagine it would be good for tourists without a car though!
February 3, 2017 at 6:03 AM · I like that this is like the "official theater" of the studios. They can do quite a bit with it.
February 3, 2017 at 7:00 AM · No DBox motion seats!?
February 3, 2017 at 10:47 AM · D-box motion seats are a freaking gimmick. No serious moviegoer is ever going to watch a movie in something that is going to disrupt the experience. Most movie exhibitors know that and won't install them. Besides that fact, most movies aren't released to show in a D-box equipped auditorium.

Moving seats are for theme park shows, not movie theaters.

It's interesting to note that this is the fourth remodel of the Universal City Walk theaters.

February 3, 2017 at 11:24 AM · Do the new theaters have Dolby Atmos sound? If not, they're missing the mark!
February 3, 2017 at 12:07 PM · Yep, it's Dolby Atmos.

And if you really want moving seats, I suppose you could just cycle the recliner in synch with whatever you see on the screen. (I now suspect that I - or some parent - will come to regret my writing that.)

February 3, 2017 at 4:12 PM · Regalin downtown has the 4dx theater!
February 3, 2017 at 4:31 PM · @153.54...I consider myself a serious movie goer and I quite enjoy DBox. I suppose to each their own.
February 3, 2017 at 5:03 PM · I love going to Disney's Elcapitan Theatre just down the road from universal. It's so pretty and steeped in history, plus they have great little perks and parking is nearly free at the Kodak theatre parking
February 3, 2017 at 6:38 PM · The competition among the Arclight Hollywood, the El Capitan, the TCL Chinese Theatres and AMC CityWalk is intense, but as each one tries to beat the others, moviegoers win.
February 3, 2017 at 9:04 PM · I really hope Universal decides to also remodel the City Walk theater here in Orlando. It's almost embarrassing how dated that theater is....all the way to all the 90s movie posters that adorn it.
February 4, 2017 at 9:37 AM · I'm guessing the seats recline, but there aren't any leg rests? The image above doesn't seem like there would be enough room. No worries, this is a huge upgrade. Although the old school 80's and 90's theaters are nostalgic, unfortunately people want luxury these days.

And D-Box is definitely a gimmick. It's like 3D... totally unnecessary for 99% of films. D-Box does nothing to add to the experience. We are watching a film, not active participants... this isn't Star Tours or the Simpsons. D-Box is like Shrek where you're just watching yet for some reason your seats move. Hard pass.

February 4, 2017 at 9:58 AM · Brandon Mendoza,

In regards to leg rests, the pictures don't show it, but the back part of the seats recline, and the bottom part comes up so you can put your legs up. Just like those "Lazy Boy" recliners.

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