March 28, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 43°F

Life & Culture

Regal Cinema calls it wraps at Shops at Ithaca Mall

Located at the Shops at Ithaca Mall, the Regal Ithaca Mall has been home to many of Hollywood’s newest blockbusters, a handful of independent films and the usual buttery scent of freshly popped popcorn. But on a typical day, audiences who walk in to watch a movie may be surprised to see that the theater, like the mall itself, is nearly empty.

It was announced Jan. 19 by Business Insider that the Ithaca Regal theater will soon be shutting its doors — just one of 39 Regal theaters closing in the country after Cineworld, Regal’s parent company, declared bankruptcy in September 2022. Alongside the more mainstream programming provided by the Regal theater, the independent theater Cinemapolis and Cornell Cinema make up the local film scene in Ithaca. Cinemapolis typically plays recent arthouse films while Cornell Cinema offers specialized programming of both classic films as well as new offerings, typically a few months after their initial theatrical run.

Ithaca College first-year student Brendan Noone said he has always been drawn to different stories and getting to experience them in the theater with less distractions. Noone said he has been to the Regal theater once and has been to Cinemapolis multiple times.

“I wanted to go a couple more times [to the Regal theater] this semester,” Noone said. “People won’t be able to see blockbusters with their friends now, which would have been fun.”

The influx of streaming services, along with theaters shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic, has posed many challenges for the film industry at large. According to data that was recently released by Statista surveying viewer preferences from November 2018 to June 2020, the number of people who strongly prefer streaming increased from 15% to 36%. Conversely, the number of people who strongly prefer theaters decreased from 28% to 14%.

“I feel really bad that there are so many theaters shutting down because it’s been such a great experience,” Noone said. “It’s just better to watch a movie in the theater than on a TV screen or your phone. It’s kind of sad that people over time prefer just staying at home.”

For first-year student Julian Martin, who has been interested in filmmaking since fourth grade, the human connection of going to the movies is important to them.

“COVID was really rough that I couldn’t see anything,” Martin said. “So the year after, I believe I saw something like 30 movies in theaters. I try to make a point to go see [movies] in theaters so I can support [them].”

Watching “Barbarian” in September at the Regal theater, Martin said, was a special moviegoing experience.

“We ended up talking to a lot of other groups who were also in the theater with us,” Martin said. “There was a huge twist about halfway through, and so that kind of movie is always just so much fun seeing with a larger crowd.”

During his time at Ithaca College, senior Dylan Clark and many of his friends split time between attending Regal and Cinemapolis.

“I think [the theater experience] provides the perfect technical atmosphere,” Clark said. “You’re getting the perfect picture experience, audio experience. And then I think under the right circumstances, the audience experience can really elevate as well.”

Molly Ryan, director of Cornell Cinema, was hired in her role in September 2022. Cornell Cinema’s programming is open to the general public, inviting the entire Ithaca community to come in and watch movies.

“One of the reasons I was really excited to come here was that there is such a vibrant film community here with students making films both here at Cornell and at Ithaca College,” Ryan said. “I think the closing of Regal is just a real loss for our cinema ecosystem here in Ithaca.”

Ryan said she is hoping to start conversations with the new director of Cinemapolis about how or whether they might be able to create access to films that the Regal theater usually screens.

Many people online have speculated about the future of moviegoing overall and whether theaters will be able to survive in the long term. Data from the Morning Consult in May 2022 reported that 50% of respondents said high costs of tickets were a major reason why they do not regularly go to the movies, while 55% of people said they are more interested in watching movies at home.

“I’m worried that this isn’t just going to be an isolated brand incident, but it’s going to continue as a trend of theaters slowly shutting down,” Martin said. “I’m hoping that people will find that magic again.”

The question of whether audiences will continue to go to the movie theaters, Ryan said, has been a perpetual problem throughout the history of cinema.

“I think cinemas have and will continue to lean into the experience of being in the distraction-free space,” Ryan said. “So it’s a really sad thing to lose the [Regal] in a town like Ithaca. But I’m hopeful that people will continue to find ways to go to the movies.”

Chrissy Guest, associate professor in the Department of Media Arts, Sciences, and Studies, grew up in the Ithaca area. Guest used to work at Hoyts Cinema, which was later replaced by Regal Cinemas in 2007 — although in a different spot in the mall. Recently, Guest said she went to see “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” with her family at the Regal.

“In the middle of the movie, [a young kid] said, ‘Mom, can we just go home and watch this at home? Why do we have to be here?’” Guest said. “That, to me, was so much about the future audiences.”

One thing Clark said he noticed is that a huge drive for people to go out and watch a movie in theaters is if it feels like an event, primarily for Marvel films.

“I think when you stepped into [Regal] and there was a premiere that happened, it feels like that’s the only time that you’d actually see that place fill up in a way that it was built for,” Clark said. “Because [other times], it frequently felt like maybe 10 other people [were] in your theater.”

In order to help keep theaters alive, Martin said it is important for people to support theaters — both independent and larger chain ones.

“All theaters need our help right now,” Martin said.

Matt Minton can be reached at