FARGO — Movie-goers in the Fargo-Moorhead area looking for a close-knit movie-viewing experience have a new option at the Marcus Theatres.
Both the Century Cinema, 3931 9th Ave. S., and the West Acres Cinema, 4101 17th Ave. S., are offering private screenings, allowing a customer to book a viewing of a new or retro movie on the silver screen for up to 20 guests.
Private screenings cost $99 for retro movies and $149 for new releases. Screenings can take place during regularly-scheduled showtimes or a different time can be arranged.
Through Feb. 21, those who book a private screening of a new movie will receive a $25 promotional concessions card. To encourage contactless transactions, the theater is also offering a $3 discount on concessions purchases of $15 or more made through the theater's app.
Rick Solarski, manager of the West Acres Cinema, said the response to the private screenings has been "exceptionally encouraging." While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had a hand in the strong response, Solarski added it's also a unique experience for viewers, who've been booking children's birthday parties and other family events.
"It's just kind of special to have your friends and family watching a movie with a select group of people," he said.
Solarski said both Fargo theaters are expecting a "major recovery" as new movie titles are released throughout the year.
Movie theaters nationwide were battered when the pandemic first reached the United States and brought with it a swift shut-down of theaters. Even after the initial shut-down, the West Acres Cinema was one of Marcus Theatres' 17 locations to close in October due to the industry slow-down before reopening in mid-December. The Century Cinema was not among the October closures.
The pandemic also significantly delayed production and releases for several blockbuster titles over the spring and summer, delays which are still felt across the industry. Some movies had release dates pushed back. "No Time to Die," the 25th installment in the James Bond series, was originally set to hit the big screen in April 2020, but its release date has been pushed to Oct. 8. Others like "Mulan," which was released on Disney+, have gone directly to subscription streaming services.
Still, new titles are on the horizon, including "Tom and Jerry" and Disney's "Raya and the Last Dragon," both of which Solarski expects to be popular.
"As people are more comfortable with vaccinations and more products come out, I'd expect there will be a bounce back to pre-pandemic levels," he said.
Many customers, Solarski said, have just been happy to return to the theater in a COVID-19-friendly environment. Safety measures include sanitizing seats between showings, socially-distanced seating and a fresh air exchange system.
"Our message has been that we're doing everything possible,' he said. "It's the safest environment you could be in."
Marcus Theatres is hopeful for a summer rebound, with a release calendar that is closer to normal and filled with blockbuster titles.
"I think this summer, we'll start seeing some products rolling out and it'll unleash some pent-up demand to be back to life as normal," Solarski said.