The recession may be hitting some movie-goers hard in their wallets, compelling families to rent a $5 DVD and kick back at home. However some movie theater-owners are beginning to take advantage of the ever-present desire for exclusivity to start a new line of members-only and ultra-luxury movie houses where patrons will pay as much as $35 a ticket for such items as acoustically-superior sound quality, valet car parking, pandering waiter service and super-comfy seating.

Such cinemas as the ArcLight in Los Angeles and the new Gold Class Cinemas around Chicago are leading the pack in the new-concept theater experiences. Both chains offer wider seats, reserved seating, and upscale menus to their patrons.

The ArcLight, located in the heart of Hollywood on the Sunset Strip, features the Cinerama Dome – a unique, geodesic shaped theatre originally built in 1963 – that has been upgraded acoustically with the finest industry projection and sound systems. Patrons must become ArcLight members to enjoy the wider aisles, reserved seating and ultra-chic cafes and bars that are part of the entertainment experiences.

Gold Class CEO Rob Goldberg told Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper that a new South Barrington, IL location, a suburb of the city, is the company’s first such foray in the U.S. and that the concept has taken off in Europe and in Australia. Gold Class’ $35 ticket price is 80 percent more than the national average, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Valet parking is included in the price, and patrons can select from a full menu from a professional server who will bring slippers and a blanket upon request. The company plans to launch 50 American theaters over the next five years.

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Theater operators believe that the chance to escape for a few hours in a movie theater is a relative bargain, as compared to other entertainment, such as sports or concerts.

Since December 1997, the cost of admission to entertainment and sporting events in cities easily has outpaced inflation and the escalating cost of medical care, according to a recent ABC News report. “Sports is about as bad as it gets” for cost increases, Malik Crawford, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, told ABC News. The cost of sports admission rose an average of 6.1 percent annually from December 1997 to April 2002, while the average admission to movies, theaters and concerts rose 4.5 percent annually. Inflation was just 2.5 percent over the period, below its historical 3.3 percent average annual rate, and medical costs rose an average of 4.2 percent annually.

The average cost for a movie in 2007 was $6.88, according to the National Association of Theater Operators, a relative bargain.

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