How to Open a Cinema

Updated February 21, 2017

Opening your own cinema is a risky proposition. You need to compete with large, well-funded theatre chains which often have numerous screens in a single locale. In order to compete with them, you can either join a theatre franchise, such as those run by A-list Theaters or the Alamo Drafthouse, or else create an independent cinema. Either way, you need a business plan which makes the operation viable, as well as offering something unique which the big chains can't.

Decide which kind of cinema you want to run. If you're interested in a multiplex showing first-run movies, contact a franchise outlet like A-list or Alamo Drafthouse. They'll have specific rules on what kind of building you can use, how your operation should be run and what kind of start-up funds you need. They'll demand a share of the profits once your cinema starts up. In exchange, they can help you secure films from distributors, market your business, and train you to operate the cinema effectively. If you wish to open an independent theatre, you'll forgo these advantages, but you'll be able to call your own shots more readily.

Prepare a list of the things you'll need for your cinema and the best places to secure them. On top of a suitable venue--with enough room to hold a screen and seats, a lobby with a concession stand, a ticket booth and auxiliary items like rest rooms--you need the proper equipment for the theatre such as a projector, a popcorn machine, theatre seats and cash registers, access to a film distributor and regular concession supplies such as popcorn and soda. Prepare a detailed plan for your theatre, including how much it will cost to run month to month, how many tickets you need to sell in order to turn a profit, and how you intend to market your business.

Speak to a bank or similar lending institution about a start-up loan. You'll need to present your financial plan to them, as well as demonstrate how you intend to advertise and turn a profit on your business. If you're joining a franchise, they can lend their clout to your presentation and help you spruce it up for your lenders.

Lease your venue and refurbish it to fit the needs of a cinema. The theatres themselves need seats and a screen. The concession stand needs to meet local health codes and contain proper storage and cooking facilities, while plumbing, electricity and phone services need to be up to snuff. You'll need to meet the building codes in your local area before you can open, so make sure you're aware of the requirements before you start renovating.

Hire employees--people to run the projector, man the ticket counter, serve concessions and clean up after each performance--and contact your distributor to arrange for your first films.

Advertise your theatre in local newspapers, online resources or radio and television stations to help promote your theatre.


The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) can help you make contact with distributors and concession supplies, as well as provide tips on running your cinema efficiently. Consider joining them if they're right for you. Consider some hook or gimmick to set your theatre apart. Alamo Drafthouse serves full meals with their movies, while more modest theatres offer alternative films and revivals of old classics. As long as you think there's a market for your hook, you can plan whatever you like.

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