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Asia’s Movie Theaters Get Innovative to Fill Seats: Dog-friendly Cinemas, ‘Little Mermaid’ Cosplay and Critic-Hosted Screenings



With movie ticket sales still lagging behind pre-pandemic highs, multiplex operators across Asia have begun deploying unconventional strategies to generate excitement and attract people back to the cinema.

Total theatrical revenue in the Asia-Pacific region was about $10.1 billion in 2022, down from $17.8 billion during the pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to data from regional consultancy Artisan Gateway. Over the first five months of 2023, several blockbusters — such as Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and Japanese anime Suzume — have helped buoy sales in the region, but exhibitors in almost every country of Asia still have a long way to go to reach pre-COVID 19 highs.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that multiplex operators have begun to get a little experimental. Here are three colorful examples from across the region.

Four-legged Filmgoers in Thailand

Earlier this month in Thailand, Major Cineplex Group, the country’s largest movie theater group, launched pet-friendly cinemas at three of its locations. Dubbed “i-Tail Pet Cinema,” the venues offer pet food and beverage concessions, as well as vending machines selling pet toys and accessories. The cinemas themselves are open to cats and small-breed dogs weighing less than 11 pounds (5 kilograms), but they must be kept in their carriers or wear pet diapers.

The ticket prices for humans at the pet-friendly cinemas are the same as Major Cineplex’s regular theaters, and there is an additional charge of 150 baht (about $4.30) for each pet. The three cinemas are initially providing regular pet-friendly screenings on weekends only.

“The company has decided to open these three cinemas after realizing that pet owners are a significant portion of their customers in these locations,” Narut Jiansanong, chief marketing officer of Major Cineplex Group, tells. The Bangkok Post.

Pet ownership has surged in Thailand over the past decade and the country is now believed to have Asia’s second-largest pet industry, behind only China’s, with some 8.3 million dogs and 3.7 million cats, according to 2021 industry estimates.

“We hope the new venture will help draw more pet owners to the movies and boost the occupancy rate by 10 percent to 30-40 percent on weekend mornings,” Narut says, adding that if the response to the screenings is strong, Major already has plans to open pet-friendly screens at additional locations.

Mermaids and Mermen in Manila

Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid has had a rough run in some parts of East Asia, due to a racist backlash to the casting of Black actor Halle Bailey in the lead. But in The Philippines, it has become the biggest movie of 2023, so far, earning $5.4 million as of Monday (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is in second place with $4.7 million). The enthusiasm for The Little Mermaid was on full display at a series of Mermaid and Mermen cosplay screenings held during the film’s opening weekend at SM Cinema in Pasay City, south of Manila. The screenings were organized by The Mermaids PH community, which describes itself as consisting of mermaid enthusiasts, hobbyists and professional mermaid pool performers.

“Calling out all our fellow Merfolks out there, show the world we exist! Go put on your mermaid tail when you go watch the movie,” the group said in its official invite, which appears to have been met with a larger-than-expected response.

Critic-guided Screenings in Korea

South Korea has long been one of the most mature and innovative movie theater markets in the world. Local industry leader CJ CGV has invented cutting-edge theater technology like 4DX immersive seating and Screen X premium large format screens, and the country’s major theater groups have partnered with popular initiatives like live-streaming BTS concerts into cinemas for top-end ticket prices. But the country’s box office has also been one of the slowest to recover from the pandemic and exhibitors continue to try new things.

Earlier this year, Megabox, Korea’s third-largest movie theater company, expanded its reach far beyond film fans by broadcasting games in the World Baseball Classic tournament in 51 cinemas across the country.

Megabox and Lotte Cinema, another major circuit, also have organized activities to deepen the classic cinematic experience, such as hosting special screenings of The Banshees of Inisherin and other recent Oscar contenders with prominent local film critics, who then lead discussions of the films with the audience once the lights came up.

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