During the pandemic, most movie watching happened at home, and the movie theaters that did manage to stay in business struggled — and continue to struggle — with how to stay safe and relevant.
The new Regal Stonestown Galleria, which opened May 25 amid all of the uncertainty, just might be a miracle.
One of its 12 screens, called “ScreenX,” recalls the old Cinerama days. The screen curves from the main wall and onto left and right walls for a surround-like experience.
Another auditorium features the RPX treatment, with a 60-foot screen and state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos audio. Viewers can choose between 3D or super-high definition 4K, or a combination of both formats.
The theater, located at the north end of the galleria, is truly glorious.
At the entrance, ticket machines are on the right, and on the left, snacks – traditional popcorn, candy and soda as well as pizza, chicken fingers, pretzel sticks and burgers. Just past the snack bar is a full bar, where patrons can order beer, wine, and even margaritas!
Rather than movie posters, video screens and light boxes tease films that are in the theater or coming soon.
Around the corner is a long hallway decorated with colored beams of light and mirrors, and comfy couches every few yards. Looking like a spaceship or the set of a music video, it instantly transports you from reality into magic.
The layout is easy to navigate. A men’s restroom has a huge photo of Clark Gable in his car, newspaper in his lap. The women’s restroom has Audrey Hepburn inviting patrons in.
For people feeling cautious, COVID health protocols include social distancing, employees wearing masks and other efforts. For the frugal, the Crown Club offers bonuses and points for purchases, and the Unlimited plan is a monthly fee under which viewers can see all the movies they wish.
Parties and events can be booked as well, via the theater’s website.
Inside the auditorium, the reclining seats are a reporter’s dream: a swiveling tray table makes it easy to take notes, let alone enjoy a snack.
A fairly new phenomenon in Bay Area theaters, the reclining seats are also a great solution for keeping patrons socially distanced, and not packed like sardines.
Auditoriums 2-8 have recliners, according to Regal manager David Kyi, formerly manager of the old Galaxy theater on Van Ness Avenue. Other auditoriums are small, screening room-type areas, with 50 or so seats, he explains.
Kyi, between going off on small missions, making sure operations run smoothly, says that audiences are indeed coming back to the movies slowly: “We try and get the world out, through our social media, any way we can, that we’re open.”
But things are changing with Marvel’s new “Black Widow,” which is drawing in near-capacity crowds.
It’s been a long time since fans have been able to see a large-scale movie like that the way it was meant to be seen, on a big screen, with a fantastic sound system, in the dark.
No one knows what the future holds, or where the story of the movies will go next. But Kyi says the best thing about being in business is “seeing the excitement of the people coming back.”
Regal Stonestown Galleria is at 3251 20th Ave., S.F; ticket prices range from $12-$19. Visit regmovies.com.