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Emagine sees resurgence thanks to blockbuster movies – Detroit Free Press

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The walls of the theater felt like they were reverberating and my heart raced as the fighter jet roared across the giant movie screen with Tom Cruise, aka Pete (Maverick) Mitchell, sitting in the cockpit as he flew hotshot style during the opening sequence of “Top Gun: Maverick.”
I won’t say more as don’t want to ruin it for those who have not yet seen the blockbuster film.
“Top Gun: Maverick,” released in May, is chock-full of heart-stopping footage and a storyline some critics have said is better than the original “Top Gun,” which also starred Cruise and was released 36 years ago.
The film has brought in a whopping $1.3 billion so far, making it among the top 10 grossing films of all time, and it hasn’t yet been released in China — the world’s biggest market.
“Thank you, Tom Cruise,” said Paul Glantz, founder and chairman of Emagine Entertainment, whose Troy-based company has been buoyed by it and other hit movies recently, including “Minions,” which are helping to bring more customers back to his 28 theaters in five states.
Emagine started in 1997 as one small theater known as Cinema Hollywood (today it’s Emagine Birch Run) and it has branched out across Michigan and other states. Emagine Entertainment now ranks among the top 10 largest theater chains in North America in the 2022 Giants of Exhibition report from The Boxoffice Pro, a publication of theatrical exhibitions.
The theater business has been under duress as a result of the pandemic. Glantz said statistics show about 13% of the movie going public still isn’t comfortable returning to theaters.
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Like all theater owners, he’s had to contend with growing competition from streaming services as some films have been released there versus in brick-and-mortar theaters. The release of “Top Gun: Maverick” was actually held back to wait out the pandemic — a shrewd move that paid off. 
Glantz has forged ahead in spite of the challenges, introducing things like a sports betting lounge in his Royal Oak theater and buying up four shuttered theaters from another company when he had zero income coming in two years ago. I talked with him about his business and strategy. (Answers are edited for space.)
QUESTION: Tell me about “Top Gun: Maverick” and its impact on your business?
ANSWER: The film has done exceptionally well at our theaters. We have been focused on our premium large format auditoriums that feature a big bright picture and immersive Dolby Atmos sound systems. We call those our EMAX and Super EMAX auditoriums. There is no better place to see a film like “Top Gun” than in a premium large format auditorium. Not wanting to take a seat from a paying guest, I have not yet seen the film. But I will before it leaves the big screen.
Q: How is the theater business doing now?
A: We are well along the comeback trail. We hit the ground running a little faster than our competitors because we never laid off any of our general managers and we resolved to provide 100% company-paid health insurance to our colleagues and their families covered under our plan who were furloughed. Our business has continued to grow, and we are once again profitable. In July 2022, we enjoyed roughly 93% of the guest count that we served during the same month in 2019. Of course, our business is product driven, meaning that our performance will ebb and flow based on the receptivity of the public to Hollywood’s feature releases. We expect things to slow down a bit as we head into the fall. But the holiday release calendar looks very strong with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” (both sequels) expected to draw big crowds.
Q: Where do you see growth opportunities for your company?
A: Besides diversifying our revenue stream by offering alternative forms of content, like sporting events, we are seeing select new opportunities to grow the number of theaters we operate. We have a successful history of repurposing existing structures and we are particularly keen on refurbishing outdated theaters in strong markets. That strategy is reflected in an acquisition we undertook during the shutdown wherein we executed a lease to operate four former Goodrich theaters. Those theaters are located in Saginaw;  Batavia, Illinois;  Noblesville, Indiana,  and Portage, Indiana. 
Q: Describe what’s it’s been like coexisting with the pandemic?
A: In a word: horrific. Being deprived of the ability to operate our business and seeing the toll it took (when theaters were closed for a time) was awful. Concurrently, I don’t think I ever worked as hard in my life trying, along with our senior executives, to hold it together and remain optimistic about the future. It took that attitude, and our resolute belief that life would return to normal, to sign the lease on the four former Goodrich theaters during a period when we had essentially zero revenue. I said at the time that I would ultimately be judged as either a babbling idiot or an absolute genius. The jury is still out on that one, but the odds appear to be favoring the latter at this point. Ultimately, we made it through relatively unscathed, when many of our industry brethren declared bankruptcy, because of the support of some terrific bankers, gracious landlords and the world’s greatest partners.
Q: You added a sports lounge at your Royal Oak location (Caesars Sportsbook runs online betting and Emagine handles food/drink). How is it doing?
A: It’s doing great. Sports betting will really kick-off starting with the NFL regular season. Keep in mind, we are not taking bets. That is Caesars’ role. We are simply providing guests with an awesome space in which to watch their favorite sporting event while they enjoy great food and drinks. I think it will help our business. Feature films will always be the backbone of our business, developing alternative means to attract guests to our venues can only help grow the business. For those that might feel uncomfortable with the concept, think of it this way: The sports lounge is contained to a single auditorium. It is no different than knowing that an R-rated film is playing in one auditorium while “Minions” is playing in another.
Q: Do you like going to the movies? What’s your favorite film?
A: I inherited the love of movies from my mom. She was an avid moviegoer and I often accompanied her because my dad was less interested in films. Most people do not know this about me, but my background is in accounting. As such, my favorite film is “The Shawshank Redemption.” It is one of the few films ever made where the hero of the movie prepares tax returns and keeps the books.
Q: What about kids movies and that impact on business?
A: Kids movies are great because they create the opportunity for a family outing, and we have been selling out that genre all summer. Moms and dads bring their children and make an afternoon excursion out of it. Speaking of the older demographic, going to the movies with one’s grandchildren is a favorite activity among those my age.
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Q: Anything else you want to mention?
 A: There was a good bit of discussion about science in 2020 and how it was being applied to determine when a sector of the economy could reopen. A little-known fact is that movie theater auditoriums are subject to a building code requirement that necessitates far greater outside air displacement than in a typical retail space. So, we are bringing a lot more fresh air into our buildings every hour than would be the case at Meijer or Costco. Thus, I would like to encourage the 13% that are still reluctant to come back to the movies and give it a try.
Contact Carol Cain: 248-355-7126 or She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs at 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See Detroit Tigers legend Willie Horton, Detroit Free Press Editor Peter Bhatia, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett and “The Big Show’s” Michael Patrick Shiels on this Sunday’s show.


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