AMC Theaters divides moviegoers between haves and have-nots.

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, people found an escape from the bad news of the day by going to the movies. I can’t even count how many movies – Sullivan’s Travels, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Matinee, Cinema Paradiso, to name a few – are about people going to the movies for entertainment and escape. People lined up and rushed to get their favorite seats; First come, first served. You’re part of a couple that both comfortably earn six figures? Paying off a student loan or trying to earn on your Social Security benefits? Does not matter. You are entitled to the best seat you can get.

Even when movie theaters started selling advance reservations, it was still first come, first served – if you wanted to see a popular movie and you were picky about your seats, you went online and tried to reserve your favorite seat before anyone else. it got.

But now, in certain AMC movie theaters (and perhaps in more and more movie theaters in the near future), it’s not how fast you claim your seat that will determine where you sit, but how much you can afford. As of today, according to AMC, a new strategy called Sightline will, according to its quirky promotional website, “keep making movies better.” How? By charging more for the Preferred Sightline Section (the middle rows), less for the Standard Sightline Section (the rear or side seats), and significantly less for the Value Sightline Section (front rows).

Okay, so sometimes watching a movie at a local theater wasn’t so great. (From the movie Matinee.) Photo: Universal Pictures

I can understand why AMC feels the need to do this. Theaters are still suffering from the effects of the pandemic and over the past three years people have become accustomed to watching movies on fairly large screens in the comfort of their homes.

But the result is that one of the last truly democratic public institutions where everyone paid the same and had the same chance of getting a good seat will join airplanes, live theaters, music venues and other institutions, where how much you can afford determines how well you enjoy your experience.

Maybe I’m too nostalgic here. It’s not like queuing up on a chilly, rainy night to try to get a decent seat in a theater was such an uplifting experience. (Though I remember the first time I saw Star Wars in a theater – I got there about two hours early, was about the 10th person in line, and passed the time having a good chat about old sci-fi movies with the people around me.) And because theaters charge extra for pre-booking seats, you could say they’ve been down this road for a while — if you didn’t want to pay the extra cost, you had to take what was left.

Years ago I was visiting London and went to a theater to see a musical. I had seats on the balcony and during intermission I tried to go down to see what the orchestra’s line of sight was like. But when I tried to find the orchestral section I realized there was no way I could gain entry – the theater was built at a time when the people in the cheap seats were carefully kept out of sight of those who could afford it better. chairs. When I asked one of the attendants how I could get into the more expensive section just to have a look, she stared at me as if I had suddenly gained an extra head. It just wasn’t done.

Maybe that’s where we’re going: movie theaters where people who can afford better seats don’t have to deal with lesser mortals who can’t spend as much – not necessarily because that’s something we, as audience members, are asking for but because theaters will try anything to to make up for the slack, including creating a new class system for the films.

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