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The future of movie theaters may be all-inclusive entertainment centers

Evo entertainment // Illustration by Kate Walker

The future of movie theaters may be all-inclusive entertainment centers


Future. While COVID wreaked havoc on almost every theater business, Evo Entertainment took COVID as an opportunity. It expanded services, acquired more locations, and turned moviegoing into a multi-entertainment experience, becoming a blueprint for theaters all over the country. But with new releases coming in waves after two years of delays, the time for being “in-construction” could be long gone.

Play to wait
At least one theater chain took advantage of the pandemic shutdown…

  • When lockdowns began, Texas-based Evo Entertainment (which has 16 locations across a few states) doubled down on being an entertainment center any way it could.
  • Besides the obvious repertory screenings of classic films, the chain turned unused screens into Fortnite hubs, exterior walls into drive-in screens, and extra land into a paintball course.
  • That’s all par for the course for Evo, whose theaters are jam-packed with arcade games, bowling alleys, and full-service restaurants.
  • Evo even started acquiring shuttered theaters, including four in Texas that include laser tag and bumper cars.

Although revenues fell 60% in 2020 (no new movies to show will do that), the next year saw sales rise just under 15% from 2019’s haul… and even turned a profit.

Movies as marketing
Evo CEO Mitch Roberts, who just happens to be the grandson of Cinemark founder Lee Roy Mitchell, said of his strategy: “We live in an experience economy. People crave experiences. They want to get together.’’

This runs directly counter to the current narrative that streaming is killing theaters or that people just want to be entertained at home. Many argue that people don’t want to go out to a place where they feel the price isn’t worth the quality — a common complaint about many big-chain theaters around the country.

But Roberts seems onto something — if people do go out, they want to go somewhere that provides a lot of ways to have a good time. While Evo shares 55% of box office revenue with studios (as all theaters do), it keeps nearly all the revenue of… well… everything else. Hook them with the movies, keep them with the margaritas.