As of 2020, there were 182 commercial movie theaters in New York City with only two of them located in the Bronx — the AMC Bay Plaza Theater 13 and the Concourse Plaza Multiplex Cinemas on 161st Street. However, the general consensus of Bronxites seems to be that the lack of movie theater options in the borough, comparatively speaking, are not missed.
“I don’t think we need movie theaters which is why many are closing throughout the city,” said Roxanne Delgado, who has lived in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood for 20 years. “Now most released movies are streamed.”
Founded in 1997, Netflix popularized movie streaming and changed the industry forever. They generated approximately $31.6 billion in revenue in 2022. Left in the dust, AMC — the largest movie theater chain in the U.S. — raked in little more than $4 billion last year. And while the COVID-19 pandemic hurt movie theater sales across the board, with AMC generating just above $1 billion in a 10-year low, the highest revenue-producing year for the American theater chain over the last decade was $5.4 billion in 2018.
The Whitestone Multiplex Cinemas at 2505 Bruckner Blvd. closed in 2013, as did the American Theater at 1450 East Ave., and the former Garden Theater on Webster Avenue still has its awning despite being closed as a movie house since 1926 — leaving just two active commercial theaters in the borough.
Last May, Peter Gennari and his partner and film curator, Jerry Landi opened the independent movie house, Cinema on the Sound to help mitigate the disparity of theaters in the borough.
“Because movies are communal, it’s much better to watch a film with a crowd rather than by yourself in your home,” said Landi.
And while the theater screens movies during the weekend, with tickets at $10 a pop, they also serve as an art space. Since its opening, “We found that a lot of Bronx-based artists, filmmakers, and creators needed a space to do things for the Bronx and present their work,” said Gennari.
Unlike the big-box theaters, which require hefty financial backing, Cinema on the Sound is merely an old antique shop with 50 folding chairs and projects its movies onto a wall.
“It’s expensive to build in New York,” said Patrick Corcoran, a spokesman for the National Association for Theater Owners, in a 2014 New York Times article. “So starting a new theater would require a hard look at the economics.”
But it’s also become quite expensive to frequent movies with rising ticket prices, particularly in a borough that has become synonymous with high unemployment. According to the state Labor Department’s January data, Bronx County topped the highest unemployment rates in the state at 7.6% — besting all 61 other counties in New York.
Currently, the AMC theater in Bay Plaza charges $18.49 for an adult ticket, $16.99 for a senior and $15.49 for children aged 2-12. Two adult tickets plus popcorn and tax will run a couple around $50.
In a Facebook group called Bronx Newswire, Carlos Rufino wrote that he recently took his wife to the movies and “between the tickets and a few snacks, I spent almost $90.” The group also expressed the lack of choices for leisure and culture in the borough overall, such as the need for bookstores, food options for seniors and jobs.
An AMC member and avid moviegoer, Bronx resident Gonzalo Duran frequents the Bay Plaza theater. He and a few friends have also created an unofficial movie club where they get together to watch newly released movies, but often, their movie outings land in Manhattan.
Duran is the CEO of Devil Dogs Inc., which helps veterans reintegrate into society. In an effort to address the lack of movie theaters in the Bronx, he plans to help in his own way by hosting a movie night at his new office at 1347 Bristow Ave. in the Crotona Park East neighborhood.
“It went from me doing a group with a friend, to then a movie group to now that I have the funding and capital, to doing it in the community,” he said.
On the Grand Concourse, near Fordham Road, sits the ornate, grandiose and horribly desolate Loew’s Paradise Theatre. Opened in 1929, the architecture is meant to evoke the Baroque and Renaissance periods with its large clock on the façade, gold embellishments and ornate structure – the building screams vintage cinema.
The theatre closed in 1994, received landmark status in 1997, reopened in 2005 as an entertainment venue, then closed again in 2006. In 2012, World Changers Church leased the venue, but the theater has been vacant for years.
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said that she wants to prioritize local funds to expand employment opportunities and told the Bronx Times that there are plans to reopen the abandoned Loew’s Theatre, just not for movie screenings.
“We’re looking to talk to the owner and transform that place. Anything that is youth oriented; I’m always about community centers and [recreation] centers. Maybe something commercial related that can create jobs,” she said.
Gibson said she hasn’t heard a call for additional movie theater options in the Bronx. Instead, the focus has been on increasing employment opportunities based on feedback from her constituents.
For Bronxites looking to get their movie or date-night fix without leaving the borough, there are options they can look forward to. The Multiplex on 161st Street offers Bargain Tuesdays and Senior Wednesdays where general admission tickets are $10.75, according to the theater manager. And if you’re a Starpass member, tickets are $5 on Tuesdays as well as other perks, and membership is free.
The Bay Plaza theater offers 30% off any showtime before 4 p.m. as part of their discount matinee, and for a one-time fee of $15, AMC members can also enjoy select $5 movies and other promotions.
Several attempts to reach the National Association of Theater Owners returned no response.
This article was updated on March 27 at 3:18 p.m.
Reach ET Rodriguez at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes