When Limelight Cinema at Tuggeranong re-opens on Friday after a multi-million revamp, patrons will still be paying $9 for most sessions but, for the first time, they will also the opportunity to partake in some fancier options. How does an espresso martini and calamari served direct to your comfy recliner in the new exclusive Gold cinema sound?
New additions to the cinema in the South.Point shopping centre include a bar and burger and pizza joint offering food and drink to enjoy with any movie, as well as a completely remodelled foyer, separate party area, new 24-seat Gold cinema and more recliners.
Other touches including loaded popcorn (add lollies and chocolate) and a very Instagram-able mural wall with prizes if you can guess every movie pictured. But the old favourites such as choc-tops, slushies and regular $9 tickets remain.
Limelight Cinema owner Ross Entwistle said the multi-million dollar overhaul had been 18 months in the making, interrupted by COVID-19, which had had some impact on the design including the spacing of seats and fewer self-serve options.
But, overall, with the re-opening fast approaching, Mr Entwistle was confident the new-look cinema could entice people out of their homes for a safe, enjoyable experience, especially with easy-to-eat-in-the-dark hot food and drinks. The cinema is now fully licensed for any session, not just the Gold cinema.
"We realise we're up against Netflix and it's easy to get food at home and we want to offer more to that experience than just going out to the cinema and then back to the carpark," he said.
"The ability to eat and drink and watch a movie, all in the same two-and-a-half-hour envelope, whether that's a grab and go and you taking it in yourself, or us delivering to your seat, we give you the choice."
The cinema opens on Friday with the classic, original 1977 Star Wars movie as well as the new Mel Gibson flick Force of Nature. But the new release action blockbuster, Tenet, will be the first big movie for this year, with previews next weekend and opening on August 27. "That's the starting gun, we hope for new content," he said. There will also be Trolls and Paw Patrol movies for the school holidays.
Mr Entwistle declined to say how much had been spent on the revamp, but said it was a significant investment.
"It's significant and it comes at a scary time when the world is conspiring to keep people from not socialising. But we're big believers as a species we're wired to want to do things together," he said.
"And there's no doubt once this thing is under control, people will still want to go out and be entertained and socialise together and we think we've delivered a really good facility in Tuggeranong to be able to do that.
"And the people of Tuggeranong have been fantastic to us. We came here a little over 10 years ago. It was formerly a Hoyts, no disrespect to Hoyts, but it was a bit rundown. And we made a significant investment at that time refreshing the environment and putting all digital equipment in as well as a pretty sharp pricing regime."
The new Gold cinema tickets are being determined, but likely to start at $25 for general and $20 for members.
"What we've done here is offer people more choice but holding on to what was fundamental to us, which was good value," he said.
Mr Entwistle argued going to the cinema was probably a safer experience than many others because the seating was spaced, the cinemas had nine-metre-high ceilings, everyone was facing the same way and no one was yelling and screaming like at the football. People would also have to sign in for any future contact tracing. There were also fewer seats and sanitation stations "everywhere".
"Our ticketing system now has an algorithm that ensures when you buy a ticket, your family group can sit together and it will automatically put a space between you and the next person," he said.
"Our capacities will be reduced and will be reduced for the forseeable future until we get this thing under control. But if we have movies and Hollywood and others are still delivering us fresh, new content, we can still operate."
Mr Entwistle branched out into owning a cinema after a career in movie management. He is a former managing director of AHL Entertainment, owner of the Greater Union cinema chain, a former managing director of Sony Pictures Releasing (Australia) and former head of overseas film buying for Village Cinemas International.
The investment in Limelight Cinemas in Tuggeranong and Ipswich in Queensland was made with the owners of the shopping centres in which they are housed, Leda Holdings.
Based in Sydney, Mr Entwistle, 52, fell in love with movies as a child, enjoying Australian classics early on such as Storm Boy, Gallipoli and Breaker Morant and naming this year's Best Oscar Picture Parasite as a recent favourite.
"It's all I've ever known really," he said.
"My career was born out of a love of movies."