Sony Pictures acquires Alamo Drafthouse dine-in movie theater chain

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Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Hollywood studio behind recent hits like "Bad Boys: Ride or Die" and "Anyone but You," has acquired the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema dine-in movie theater chain, the two companies announced Wednesday.

Alamo will be housed under a new corporate division called Sony Pictures Experiences, and the chain will continue to operate all 35 of its locations across 25 metro areas in the U.S., the companies said in a joint statement.

The deal is notable partly because major movie studios were long legally prohibited from owning brick-and-mortar theaters following a landmark Supreme Court antitrust case decided in 1948. But the so-called Paramount Consent Decrees were nixed in 2020, allowing companies to get back in the theatrical exhibition business.

Sony is following in the footsteps of Netflix, which purchased the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles and the Paris Theater in New York City in separate transactions. Disney, for its part, owns and operates the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. However, Sony is so far the only major studio to snatch up a chain.

Alamo Drafthouse was founded in 1997 as a family-owned repertory cinema in Austin, Texas. It has since expanded across the nation, cultivating a passionate following of cinephiles who thrill to its dine-in food service, alcoholic drinks and curated film programs.

The theaters operated under the Alamo brand offer a mix of new releases and repertory titles, including horror and science-fiction fare that tend to draw large audiences. Sony said Alamo will "continue to welcome content from all studios and distributors."

Alamo's devoted customer base has not always translated into financial success, however. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2021, shuttered some locations and called off plans to open new locations. It emerged from bankruptcy a few months later.

In general, the theatrical marketplace is on shaky footing these days. The box-office success of "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" helped reinvigorate theatrical moviegoing last summer, but exhibitors still confront existential headwinds, including the growing popularity of at-home streaming options.

"We are beyond thrilled to join forces with Sony Pictures Entertainment to expand our company vision to be the best damn cinema that has ever, or will ever, exist now in ways we could only ever dream of," Tim League, the founder of Alamo Drafthouse, said in a statement.

"They have a deep respect and understanding of cinema’s ability to both drive growth and create lasting cultural impact which aligns perfectly with everything Alamo Drafthouse stands for," League added, referring to Sony.

Michael Kustermann will remain chief executive of Alamo and head up the new Sony Pictures Experiences unit, reporting to Ravi Ahuja, the president and chief operating officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment. The company's headquarters will remain in Austin, according to Sony.

Sony has been on a hot streak at the worldwide box office in recent months, raking in ticket sales for hits such as "Bad Boys: Ride or Die," "The Garfield Movie" and the sleeper romantic comedy "Anyone but You."

But not all of the studio's recent releases have found favor with audiences. "Madame Web," a superhero saga tied to the Spider-Man universe, fell flat at the box office when it debuted in February.