With the opening of Landmark Theatres’ Atlantic Plumbing location last October—the latest opening in D.C.’s current and future cinema boom—friendly competition among the District’s movie theater chains seemed inevitable. Apparently, it’s not so friendly.
Yesterday, Landmark filed suit in federal court against Regal Cinemas—the largest movie theater circuit in the country—alleging that it holds a monopoly in showing first-run commercial movies in D.C., something detrimental to Landmark’s success in the District, specifically at its new Atlantic Plumbing theater.
According to the lawsuit, which singles out Regal’s Gallery Place theater, “Regal has used its national circuit power, its dominant presence in the greater D.C. area, and its monopoly power in the relevant markets to coerce film distributors to deprive Landmark, its competitor in the relevant markets of fair competitive access to commercial films to exhibit to the public at its competing theater, all as a means of perpetuating and enlarging its circuit power and monopoly power in the relevant markets and of insulating itself from competition on the merits.”
Landmark, primarily, is an indie theater chain that typically programs smaller indie and foreign films that wouldn’t normally play at Regal Cinemas (hence why this lawsuit has never come up before, even with Gallery Place’s close proximity to Landmark’s E Street Cinema). But with its new, lush Atlantic Plumbing theater, Landmark says they want to program “desirable, commercial, ‘first run,’ feature-length motion pictures” and that Regal’s monopoly power makes it so that exhibitors won’t license the film rights to them for screening within the market.
For filmgoers looking to see new commercial films in that market, which the lawsuit describes as the “District Core” (basically, downtown D.C. and the surrounding Northwest neighborhoods), the only option is Regal Gallery Place. But Landmark’s Atlantic Plumbing theater wants to be that second option for filmgoers, and one that it says is far more desirable than Regal’s Gallery Place theater.
The suit details poor consumer experiences at Gallery Place as “typical,” highlighting “long ticket and concession lines, large, loud, and unpleasant crowds (including teens and children) that can destroy the movie-going experience, a virtually constant police presence, sold-out shows, exorbitantly priced concessions, ticket price surcharges/fees, bag searches, dirty bathrooms, and standard (non-plush/oversized seatings.” The lawsuit goes on to list specific examples of consumers’ reports: “When seeing comedies, there tends to be a disproportionately huge number of annoyingly whooping, talking, and texting teens;” “Two out of three times, someone will be in there w[ith] their crying baby, loud kids shouting… or on the phone during the movie.”
Meanwhile, with its reserved seating, 40-seat bar, and swanky lounge area that resembles a “a tricked out Restoration Hardware ad,” the Atlantic Plumbing theater is attempting to cater to different filmgoing crowd. But Regal’s alleged monopoly on commercial films is making it hard for Landmark to program its Atlantic Plumbing theater the way it wants to.
According to the lawsuit, Landmark sought the licenses to show films such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, Spectre, Burnt, and Our Brand Is Crisis at its Atlantic Plumbing theater, only to have each distributor refuse the license “because Regal’s Gallery Place had demanded an exclusive license for the film and had informed the distributor that it would not play the film at its Gallery Place theater if the film were licensed to Landmark’s Atlantic Plumbing theater.”
Additionally, in the few cases where Landmark was granted the license to show commercial films at Atlantic Plumbing–for Steve Jobs, Love the Coopers, and Miss You Already—Regal allegedly refused to play the films at Gallery Place, the suit claims.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery