When Milk Duds won't do: $29 movie ticket and champagne theaters open

As a bookend to WalletPop's hard-hitting expose on candy smuggling into movie theaters, we bring you the other end of the picture-show universe: a chain so upscale that $49 bottles of champagne, $19 steak sandwiches and a club-like pampering come on top of a $29 ticket.

The recession has faded to black for a niche of upscale movie goers, according to an article in Monday's Los Angeles Times. Australia-based Gold Class Cinemas opened its fourth luxury movie mini-palace in the United States -- this one in Pasadena, Calif., -- and it's doing brisk business.
It has sold out eight of its first 11 seatings, the Times said, lending momentum to a plan that could result in dozens of swanky cinemas dotting the landscape.

In addition to theaters already operating in two Chicago suburbs and one in Microsoft home Redmond, Wash., Gold Class's parent company, Village Roadshow Ltd., has visions of establishing a total of 30 over the next five years, according to the Times.

Some of the $200 million seed money is coming from Act III Communications, for which "All in the Family" creator Norman Lear serves as CEO. Somehere in sitcom heaven, Archie Bunker is probably rolling over in his easy chair.

So who would shell out what for many of us amounts to grocery and daycare money in a few hours? Well, Stephen Galloway and his wife, Tina. The Times describes the two sipping champagne and pondering the calamari and a steak sandwich while watching the post-apartheid drama "Invictus." Freedom through over-the-top cinematic indulgence. Just as Nelson Mandela would have wanted!

Granted, some chains already offer amenities like gourmet cuisine and wait service -- but Gold Class believes it outclasses them, according to the story.

"We've never experienced anything like this," Tina Galloway told the paper.

The Times describes bits of the theater's surroundings thusly: A hostess in high heels who escorts customers to their seats. A lounge atmosphere with a few dozen giant suede recliners flanking oval tables with lighted buttons that can order anything from a martini to a chicken piccata. Pillows and blankies provided on request as well.

While most folks gripe about $11-plus popcorn, Village Roadshow plans an assault on the wallets of movie-hungry swells. So far, 10,000 Southern Californians have joined Gold Class's "discount" club, which reduces the ticket price to $22, and club membership is around 2.5 million globally, the exhibitor told the Times.

Graham Burke, chief execuive of Village Roadshow, said in the article: "Our secret agenda in America is: Not only are we going to make money, we'll make a lot of money. "
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