Arts & Culture News

The Angelika Theater Tries a New Membership Program to Try to Compete With Streaming

The Angelika Film Center really wants to attract moviegoers who would rather stay home streaming.
The Angelika Film Center really wants to attract moviegoers who would rather stay home streaming. courtesy Angelika Film Center
There's a question that you’ve probably been asked dozens of times since the pandemic started: "So, what have you been binge-watching recently?” Netflix! Amazon Prime! HBO Max! Disney+! All have become essential. Hulu? Maybe, if you really love The Handmaid’s Tale. How about Paramount+? OK, as long as you have a need to watch old Star Trek episodes. Has your Apple TV+ free trial ended yet, or do you need to fork over another $5.99 before the next season of Ted Lasso?

With a new streaming service seemingly announced every week, it’s no secret that the theatrical moviegoing business has been in a steep decline for quite some time. It’s easy to just blame it all on COVID-19, but streaming services have been dominating the entertainment landscape for the last several years. One of the reasons that Spider-Man: No Way Home became such a phenomenon was its novelty factor. You HAD to see Spider-Man on opening weekend to avoid spoilers. It was an event. You couldn’t just wait for it to inevitably show up on one of the streaming services to which you subscribe.

Even if you’re not going to spend your hard-earned cash at your local Cinemark or AMC theater, it’s worth paying a little extra to support independent chains. These small businesses allow indie, international and documentary films to find success in an era dominated by sequels and remakes. Bored of stuff like Morbius? The Angelika Theater in Dallas is the place to go.

The Angelika is launching a new initiative encouraging movie lovers to see new releases where they were meant to be seen: on the big screen. The Angelika membership program, called “Bring A Friend Back To The Movies,” launches April 29 and allows anyone who buys a ticket to see the new film The Duke during its first week of release to add a bonus free ticket. Bring your friend! Or your mom! Doesn’t matter either way.

Although the “Bring A Friend Back To The Movies” system only lasts a week, the overall membership has many more rewards. Similar to loyalty programs like the ones at AMC and Cinemark, it allows users to earn points on movie tickets, food and drinks. The Angelika is even expanding that to include entrance to free surprise screenings every month, free popcorn for you and a guest on your birthday and a free subscription to the streaming service Angelika Anywhere. With half-off tickets every Tuesday and discounts for online orders, it's a pretty sweet deal.

“Going to the movies is as safe or safer than going to a bar or a crowded restaurant,” said Sony Pictures Classics’ co-president, Tom Bernard, in a press release. “We know that people are finally ready to get back into their seats and Roger Michell's The Duke, starring Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent, is the ideal film to remind viewers and their friends of their fondness for the movie theater viewing experience.”

You might not have heard of The Duke, and that’s not surprising. The film initially debuted at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2020. Although Sony Pictures Classics was quick to pick up the distribution rights, the film was shelved indefinitely as a result of the pandemic. It has sadly fallen out of the public consciousness, despite earning rave reviews upon its initial release. The Duke is still certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes at 95%. Angelika President and CEO Ellen Cotter called the film “a heartwarming and hilarious gem.”

The film tells the amazing true story of the elderly cat burglar Kempton Bunton, played by Academy Award winner Jim Broadbent (or Professor Slughorn in the Harry Potter movies if you’re a kid). At almost 60 years old, Bunton stole Francisco Goya’s masterpiece "Portrait of the Duke of Wellington" from the London National Gallery in 1961. Bunton considered himself to be a Robin Hood-esque figure and planned to transport the painting to the United States so it could be viewed by the general public.

Even if you’re not going to spend your hard-earned cash at your local Cinemark or AMC theater, it’s worth paying a little extra to support independent chains.

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Considering the fact that he was in his elder years, Bunton’s crime was more than a bit unusual. The film plays up the comedy angle and focuses on Bunton’s quirky relationship with Helen Mirren as Bunton’s wife, Dorothy. Has Helen Mirren ever been bad in a movie? It’s the enjoyable bit of crowd-pleasing fare that you know your parents are going to absolutely love.

Sadly, the release of The Duke is also a bittersweet moment. The film’s director, Roger Michell, died last September. A veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Michell’s list of classics include Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Persuasion, The Mother and even David Bowie’s music video for “The Buddha of Suburbia.” Michell was actively working up until his death. He has two films scheduled for release this year; the documentary Elizabeth: A Portrait in Paris is set to be released on June 3, just in time for the monarch’s Platinum Jubilee celebration.

The Duke’s release also may bring back a segment of the moviegoing public that’s been reluctant to return to theaters: older audiences. A recent study indicated that older viewers were still more likely to stay at home because of safety concerns. The Duke’s focus on a quirky elderly protagonist is certain to appeal to an older market.

It’s also just a fun movie. Between Broadbent’s amusing comedic asides and the positive message of inclusivity in the art world, The Duke is a much better choice than some of your other options right now. Face it, you really don’t need to see Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Most of all, we really, really, don't want to see the Angelika shut down like so many other local theaters.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.