For $100, You Can Rent Out an Entire Movie Theater in Chicago

Finally something from the COVID era that’s better than the pre-pandemic version

October 21, 2020 10:47 am
rent private movie theater
Pick whichever seat you like
Karen Zhao/Unsplash

Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other special events continue to roll by, but the endless march of COVID halts for no occasion. It has been repetitive, isolating and confounding to celebrate milestones under our new normal. That’s why Cinemark’s private watch parties are the perfect activity for your pod’s celebratory needs — and they’ll really play in the cold months.

Adapting to the marketplace at hand, Cinemark’s latest offering sets guests up with an entire auditorium (that’s the industry term) to enjoy cinema in the flesh. Fill it with 20 of your closest, virus-free friends, go for an extravagant date night or just get out of the house for some alone time — pick a sad movie if you have some stuff you need to cry out.

Headquartered in Plano, Texas, Cinemark is one of the largest movie theater companies in the world, and reports that nearly 85 percent of it’s theaters have reopened in the U.S. They’ve smartly begun marketing Private Watch Parties to consumers ready to go back to the movies, but they’re trying to do it responsibly. 

The Logistics

Guests pay $99 for a selection from a catalogue of old movies or $149 for current movies. That $99 reserves the entire auditorium, in which you can house 1 to 20 guests. If you have a large group you can feel safe with, you can really push the ROI ratios.

Just like the good old days, there are specific times when these theaters are available (i.e., you can’t prescribe a date and time). In general, there’s more availability on the weekends, with some weekdays offering zero showings. 

Face masks are required when not eating or drinking, and you can book the entire experience online.

The Movies

Cinemark has a pretty decent catalogue of both old and new movies. It seems like each theater has a few different options, so be sure to check your specific location. The list is also quite seasonal, so expect a change to Christmas/winter fare very soon. Some current offerings in the Chicagoland area:

  • New Releases: Tenet, The War with Grandpa, Honest Thief, Empty Man
  • Classics: Jurassic Park, Grease, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, Monsters, Inc., V for Vendetta
  • Seasonal Favorites: Hocus Pocus, Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Halloween (2018), Addams Family (2019), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Exorcist (2000), Scream

If none of those strike your fancy, guests can bring their own Blu-ray or DVD. The disc must be officially distributed by a studio (no bootleg copies allowed) and carry a maximum R-rating, so leave Cannibal Holocaust at home. Pro tip: blu-rays will have a higher video quality.

The Experience

I set out on a Saturday afternoon with four people, all from one quarantine pod. The movie was Harry Potter #1, the experience was aces. 

COVID cleaning protocols are ubiquitous and cleaning wipes are available just outside the auditorium should you feel the urge to wipe down your seats. That said, don’t be lulled into false security — ventilation is the real danger with the spread of COVID-19, so all the wiping in the world won’t help if someone in your party is coughing up germs. Even being from the same pod, our party kept our masks on when not eating or drinking. I recommend bringing multiple mask styles in case you get one wet or tire of the feeling on your face/head/ears. A two-hour movie is probably the longest I’ve rocked a mask so far.

Discounted concessions are priced to entice — $2.50 for candy, $3.50 for a drink (I chose an ICEE on my outing) and $5 large popcorn. 

We were assigned one of the smaller theaters. It had about 10 rows in all, which was nice, since being in one of the giant theaters would’ve felt a bit too dystopian for me. We didn’t sit right next to each other, because we didn’t have to, and for different parts of the movie I changed my seat. That felt like a return to childhood, when you could seat hop to your heart’s content. Now, I panic when I have to select my seat before seeing the inside of the theater and getting a feel for the space. The chance to move around during the movie was exhilarating — second only to the perk of volume control. Yes, it’s your party and you can request the volume to be changed if you want to. We were getting blasted with full sound, and it took no time to hop out and ask someone to lower it.

The luxury was noticeable, like a very economical version of flying a private plane. Off the bat we were all giddy to just be going somewhere and finally be back in the rhythm of appearing at a scheduled place and time for a public outing. For the price, it’s a perfect amount of normal wrapped up in extravagance. If the rich can have rapid tests at their parties, this is the everyman’s chance for a taste of indulgence in these seemingly austere times. 

Overall verdict: If private watch parties are the new normal, I am definitely on board.

Participating Locations

There are no Cinemark theaters within the city limits of Chicago, but there are several options a short drive away. Available theaters are listed below in order of proximity to the 606 area code, and you can check out full nationwide availability here.

  • Cinemark Melrose Park
  • Cinemark at Seven Bridges and IMAX, Woodridge
  • Century Stratford Square, Bloomingdale
  • Century 16 Deer Park
  • Cinemark Louis Joliet Mall
  • Cinemark Tinseltown USA, North Aurora
  • Cinemark Spring Hill Mall and XD, West Dundee
  • Cinemark at Valparaiso
  • Cinemark Tinseltown USA, Kenosha

Note: the Century 12 Evanston/CineArts 6 in Evanston (one of my personal favorite movie theaters) is temporarily closed.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.