The Worldwide Cinema Experience

By Mike Cummings, TK Architects International

May 2015


During the first part of 2015 I have visited several cinemas and met with many exhibitors around the world; in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Beijing and Mexico City.  At CinemaCon I also saw presentations from exhibitors about their cinemas in Thailand, Cambodia and throughout the Middle East.  The differences in these markets are primarily driven by economics, culture and competition.


The cinemas are similar yet different and all focused around two key factors:

  1. Providing their guests with a fantastic entertainment experience.
  2. The importance of storytelling in all cultures.


Most of the cinemas I have seen this year can be visualized in three economic and operational model categories:

  1. All VIP/Gold Class – all auditoriums, amenities and services are luxurious. There may be some differences in level of service and accommodations within a facility, but the entire complex caters to the VIP crowd. Some locations are obvious like in the Middle East. Others, like in Cambodia, are unexpected but have achieved amazing financial results.
  2. Mixture of Choices – these facilities include several types of auditoriums allowing their customers choice and different price points. They might include IMAX/Premium Large Format (PLF), VIP/Gold Class, 4D, and economy auditoriums within the same facility. Exhibitors are showing a lot of creativity in their business and operational models. Many of these facilities are separated into separate areas for each type of auditorium.
  3. Economy Cinemas – usually located outside of major metropolitan areas, these cinemas cater to large volume crowds in underserved markets at an affordable price point. The definition of major metropolitan areas varies widely between countries; for example, a city in China with a population of 5 million is considered a secondary metropolitan area. In the US, we have seen success with the economy approach in major metropolitan markets as well. The modest price point appeals to families, people on fixed incomes, and those that need to be frugal.


Two other points to consider:

  1. Current cinema technology and design tools allow us to create remarkable auditoriums without breaking the bank.
  2. There are huge opportunities globally in the economy market; for example cities with more than one million people without a cinema.



The movie business is a very unusual business model with interdependent but separate industries.  One is the studios that make the content whose objective is to maximize the return on their investment.   The other is exhibitors whose objective is to maximize their profit on the theatrical release portion of the movie cycle.


Hollywood has done a terrific job of creating wildly successful content so far in 2015.  Consensus expects this to continue throughout the rest of the year and finish very strong with the much anticipated release of the new Star Wars movie.  Movies produced outside the US have been strong for some time in Europe, India, Russia, Japan and Hong Kong.  Recently, there has also been remarkable success by movies made and produced in China, Korea, Indonesia, Mexico and throughout the Middle East.  This is a very encouraging trend; higher quality content providing moviegoers with diverse choices will definitely continue to push the global movie business to even higher levels.


Cinema cannot be successful unless the content makers deliver compelling stories, and filmmakers in 2015 deliver big time.


Exhibitors are also doing a fantastic job.  The future of exhibition will remain incredibly optimistic as long as they continue to develop contemporary entertainment facilities that appeal to their customer base.  I remain impressed by how well exhibitors understand their customers and strive to serve them in the design of their cinemas.


I have been designing entertainment facilities for more than 30 years and am still inspired by how exhibitors continue to reinvent themselves to provide their customers (like me) with an amazing movie going experience.


Exhibitors need to continue to focus on that objective.  While impressed by the facilities I have seen this year, there are refinements that can further elevate the experience.  I am looking forward to being challenged by exhibitors to do just that.


 -The Worldwide Cinema Experience