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The Worst Movie Theater Ever

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by Matt Singer
June 14, 2012 3:14 PM
25 Comments
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Fuckedinparkslope.com (Note the Last Listed Film)
Yesterday I heard something at a theater I have never heard in more than 30 years of going to the movies.

I was told that a screening didn't exist.

Not "That screening is sold out." Not "That screening is cancelled because of technical difficulties." Not "That screening actually started ten minutes ago." That screening doesn't "exist." Those were the words used by the young woman at the box office at The Pavilion Theater in Brooklyn, New York when I tried to buy a ticket for the 10:15 showing of "Prometheus."

The screening doesn't exist? For a moment, I thought I was being invited to partake in some sort of philosophical brain teaser. Like, if a movie screens in an empty theater and no one pays to watch it, does it make a sound?

But no, there simply was no 10:15 screening of "Prometheus" at The Pavilion.

"Are you sure?" were the first words out of my flabbergasted mouth.

(Admittedly, this was maybe the stupidest response possible. What is the woman going to say? "Actually it does exist. I was just testing you to make sure you really want to see it. Come on in!  And just for you, the movie is free!")

"Yes," she replied instead.

"But I read about it online."

(Another classic Singer zinger. On this night, I put the dumb in dumbfounded.)

"What website did you use?"

"Fandango."

"They're wrong. We're not affiliated with them. We're trying to get that changed."

"Oh. Okay." And with that, I walked away, angry and annoyed.

Actually, angry and annoyed might be an understatement: I was boiling with rage. I had wanted to write a Criticwire post collecting the best spoiler-y "Prometheus" writing on the web, but in order to do that I needed to finally see the movie. I'd rearranged my entire day so I could catch the 10:15 showing at The Pavilion. I got up early. I worked through dinner. I skipped hang out time with my wife. And after all that, the movie didn't exist. I was pissed. So I tweeted:

"Congrats to The Pavilion in Brooklyn for continuing to be the Worst Movie Theater ever! Apparently the screening listed online was made up."

Obviously I was upset and maybe a little hyperbolic. There are a lot of movie theaters in the world. I haven't been to most of them. It's conceivable that in the century-plus history of motion picture exhibition, there once was a worse theater than The Pavilion. But the undeniable fact is this: in my lifetime, in my thirty-one years of going to the movies, The Pavilion is the worst movie theater I personally have ever visited. The phantom 10:15 "Prometheus" screening, you see, was not an isolated incident.

In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, The Pavilion is legendary for its shoddy customer service record. If you want a full accounting of their ineptitude, the blog Fucked in Park Slope has a pretty extensive record. Like the time they oversold a screening of "The Hunger Games." Or that time they disrespectfully hung their American flag (the theater, by the way, is located on a street recently renamed for a soldier who died in Afghanistan). Or that time the digital print of "The Other Guys" started freezing and skipping like an old DVD (I witnessed this one firsthand). Other than that stuff, and the constantly broken seats, stained and torn movie screens, tiny auditoriums with bad focus, muddy sound and possible bed bugs, there's basically nothing wrong with the place.

Oh, no, wait, I'm wrong; there's actually lots more wrong with it! After I vented my spleen on Twitter, fellow Brooklynites chimed in with their own sob stories. It was like an impromptu support group. Danny Bowes of Movies by Bowes told me about the time he was denied a refund after a projector at The Pavilion broke shortly before the end of "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" because, according to the employee, he'd seen "MOST of it" (lucky for him it wasn't a screening of, say, "The Sixth Sense"). Farran Nehme of the fantastic Self-Styled Siren blog sent me a story about taking her kids to see "Tangled" at the Pavilion while the theater's heater was broken; the room was so cold she could see her own breath. Months later, she went back for another movie and the heater was STILL broken! "I was so indignant," Farran told me, "I asked to see the manager and demanded to know on what planet it takes three or four months to fix heating. He told me they only used one HVAC company and the guys were busy at the moment. If you ask me, the Pavilion management had another solution in mind. It's called spring."

Farran goes on to list a litany of less serious but significant offenses, from blurry projection to dim 3-D movies. But here's the kicker: "In all the time I have been going (and because we live close by, it's still our go-to theatre for kid movies) I have never been offered a refund or even an apology for the many problems they have had."

And that's the most galling thing about The Pavilion: not the fact that they screw up over and over again, but that they don't seem to care. Everyone makes mistakes, but good businesses try to correct them. They treat their customers with respect. The Pavilion treats their customers like prisoners in a maximum security jail; thanks to their great location in a neighborhood with absolutely no competition, they know we've got nowhere else to go. The woman who told me there was no "Prometheus" screening at 10:15 didn't even offer me an apology; she just blamed Fandango. So when I went home, I did some checking. The showtime information for The Pavilion was wrong on Moviefone too -- I guess they're not "affiliated" with that website as well. Same for The Village Voice. MovieTickets.com didn't list any "Prometheus" showtimes at all (IT DIDN'T EXIST!!!). But I'm sure it's all a massive conspiracy on the part of the online ticketing industry, and not The Pavilion providing these websites (or whatever central company feeds them their showtimes) incorrect information. 

The reality is it wouldn't have taken much to make me happy; a sincere "We're sorry" and a $5 coupon for the concession stand would have done the trick. At a time when moviegoing is down 28% in popularity amongst consumers according to one survey, theaters should be doing everything in their power to make their loyal customers happy. Even if it was Fandango's fault (and I'm dubious that it was) it's up to the theater to make things right -- unless, of course, they want their customers to use Fandango to find another place to watch movies. Which, I think, is probably the best thing for all parties at this point.

Have you been a victim of The Pavilion? Feel free to share you horror stories in the comments below.

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25 Comments

  • Vito | December 8, 2012 9:23 AMReply

    why don't you morons stop going there then? it's because of you people that it continues to exist.

  • Derek | December 4, 2012 3:00 PMReply

    I went to see "Total Recall" there a couple of months ago. They didn't bother to dim the lights for the duration of the movie.

  • Virginia | September 28, 2012 11:23 AMReply

    I swear when I read this I thought I was reading about the movie theater in the Fresh Pond Mall in Cambridge, MA. I had the EXACT same thing happen to me when the film broke at the end. I was so irate I took my complaint all the way to corporate only to have the owner of said chain leave me a voicemail laughing at me and saying "people love our movie theaters." Seriously, I'd rather stay at home and watch my old 20 inch unflat screen TV than ever go there or a theater like it again!

  • jbob | June 18, 2012 3:46 PMReply

    FIPS just ripped you off-
    http://www.fuckedinparkslope.com/home/dont-look-to-the-internet-for-pavilion-showtimes.html

  • Sean | June 17, 2012 3:24 AMReply

    The AMC Boston Common is still so much worse. I waste far too much time posting on Twitter about all the absurd occurances, like a time when instead of the movie we all were transfixed watching my colleague's fast-food burrito bag get carried away by rodents, or when the silent-movie spell of THE ARTIST was intterupted by a critic shrieking because mice ran across her feet. The Boston critical community has racked up almost three years now complaining about these intolerable screening conditions, with usually unwatchable projection disasters and we've all penned several well-publicized articles. Yet still, nobody cares.

    The profound indifference of our local publicists can be summed up by last year when we had to break it to a Disney rep that the house lights inexplicably came on, and remained there, for the last half hour of THE MUPPETS. "Oh well, at least they weren't projecting ads and word scrambles over the movie again." (Because they did that during TREE OF LIFE. Slashfilm host David Chen finally had to jerry-rig his IPad case over the projector window to stop the ads from showing on top of Malick's movie, because AMC could not even figure out how to unplug their secondary advertisment projector.)

    The irony here is that the Boston area has several historic and frankly marvelous old movie houses, run by people who actually care and work hard to deliver the best presentation possible. One block to the left of the AMC Boston Common is a gorgeous screening room at the old Paramount Theatre that sits empty for most of the day. There are plenty of options available, but still nobody cares.

  • A different Sean | June 21, 2012 10:19 AM

    Amen, brother. AMC Boston Common is a disaster. I will say that the Harvard Sq. AMC has improved a bit over the past couple years while the Boston Common AMC has sunk further into the pit of despair it is currently, fully nestled in. I'm hoping AMC's recent acquisition by the Chinese can somehow revitalize the chain. Fingers crossed.

  • JoeS | June 15, 2012 10:30 PMReply

    I remember back in the 80s when a new multiplex was opening south of L.A.. They had ads in the local newspapers about all the movies they were showing opening weekend. So we drove down there. It was all dark save for one brave guy in the booth. Turns out the theater missed their opening deadline by a week! So, not only were the opening night screenings cancelled - but, a whole week of them!!

  • TC | June 15, 2012 2:24 PMReply

    Can't speak for the Pavillion itself, but i've heard complaint after complaint here in the Boston area from theaters about Fandango and MovieTickets.Com both getting showtimes wrong. I experienced it first hand a couple years ago when I headed out to our local Showcase Cinema to see "Life In A Day" at the 10:20 AM showing they listed on National Amusement's own website, which was powered by MovieTickets.com. When I got there...the first showing wasn't until 11:40, and I wasn't about to wait around all day...I think the ticket services don't update as often as they should and that the chains don't verify when they should. But still, I felt the same way you did, Matt, at the time...:-)

  • Bob G | June 15, 2012 6:32 PM

    An hour and 20 minute screening difference is "all day"?

  • Da7e | June 15, 2012 12:03 PMReply

    I saw CORALINE there in one of the worst 3D presentations I'd ever seen in my life. It was the second time I'd seen the flick and I was purposefully bringing a friend so we could talk about using 3D for depth. Instead, the first 10 minutes were out of focus. I complained, then watch them tweak the focus, fix it for about 30 seconds, then it went blurry again. When I asked them to please attempt to re-focus again, they responded that they had, and I started to wonder if the projectionist was literally going blind while no one noticed. I had to go to CORALINE a third time in Times Square, which is horrible, but at least their projectionists know what focus is on their first attempt.

  • Katey | June 15, 2012 11:49 AMReply

    I go to the Pavilion every time I have to pay to see a movie opening day (i.e. it doesn't screen for critics), so I only see shitty movies there in the shittiest possible conditions. When I paid to see What's Your Number? last fall, I had to go find somebody at the concession stand to tell them to turn down the damn house lights after the movie had started.

    Then again, it was very clear that nobody cared when we brought in our own drinks to see Hot Tub Time Machine, so lack of proper management can be a good thing, too.

  • Jeph | June 14, 2012 7:39 PMReply

    Since box officers spend most of their time on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. anyway, why don't theater managers just task them with perusing websites that movie-goers might pull showtimes from and make sure their accurate? There's still bound to be mistakes every once in awhile, but that's nothing a little smiling'-faced customer service shouldn't fix.

    Also, for all you uptowners, keep an eye on the historic Coliseum Theater on 181st in Inwood. I think that venue will start making some cinematic noise again soon :)

  • [A] | June 14, 2012 6:52 PMReply

    You used the word "flabbergasted". You are my friend.

  • Megan | June 14, 2012 4:51 PMReply

    I'm not familiar with the Pavillion, or Fandango, but I manage a theatre (in the Great White North) that's has had recurring problems with non-affiliated websites listing incorrect showtimes, failing to mention subtitles, and just plain getting the films wrong (Google Movies said we were playing Mel Gibson's 1999 action-thriller Payback a couple of months ago, instead of the Jennifer Baichwal documentary Payback - and we couldn't get them to correct it.)

    That having been said, as soon as we hear of an error, we let our patrons know however possible to minimise the number of folks getting disappointed/indignant. (It mostly works. There are always exceptions.) We also offer passes/refunds/freebies in the case of insurmountable complications (and sometimes, frankly, just to shut people up when they won't stop whining about minor 'problems'). The Pavillion should get on that. It seriously wouldn't cost them a lot to improve their image.

    But also, seriously, fix the heating.

  • Peter | June 14, 2012 4:48 PMReply

    One of the things that annoys me about this post is how the author complains that a non-affiliated site got the time wrong. Like the girl said, _they_ didn't post that. I used to work at a Cineplex in Ontario and customers would come with annoying frequency based on showtimes from this random local site that had nothing to do with us. Their times were often wrong, I kept telling people, use cineplex.com if you are going to Cineplex but people kept coming with information from that site. It wasn't my fault, and I don't know why I should have to apologize for the site and their own mistakes. Check the source! And if you don't, and your info is wrong, who is to blame, really?

    Maybe this theatre really is awful, but the basis for this smeer article based largely on hearsay is pretty embarrassing.

  • Pop | June 16, 2012 12:22 PM

    Clearly you didn't read the whole article.

  • mike | June 14, 2012 4:46 PMReply

    I had a similar issue at the Village East a while back. I headed there on a Thursday to see a movie after seeing the showtime listed on either movietickets.com or fandango. When I got there, there was no screening. "But it says so online" I said. "Not on our website," the lady behind the window unsympathetically responded. She was right. I think there's a bit of a disconnect between the ticketing sites and the theaters, and late or last-minute changes aren't reflected. Which is absurd and very frustrating. Not sure if it warrants this kind of pouting, but I'm glad you did anyway because I'm sure Pavilion management will take note and hopefully address some of the issues.

  • James | June 14, 2012 4:44 PMReply

    If I could act like a dick and have you keep coming back to my business, I'd do it too.

    Vote with your wallet.

  • Henry | June 14, 2012 4:36 PMReply

    I've never had any problems at The Pavilion, though I've heard all these bad stories a million times. I go to the Alpine in Bay Ridge once or twice a month, and sometimes there are problems; the Avengers played for 10 minutes with no picture, just sound, before the projectionist finally stopped it; 15 minutes later, they started it over from the beginning. I dunno, watching a bunch of Brooklynites get all crazy was a lot of fun, part of the social experience of going to a theater...

  • Alex | June 14, 2012 4:17 PMReply

    Just to offer a counterpoint, I have lived near the Pavilion for over five years and have never had an experience I would quality as negative. Once the A/C didn't work and I casually mentioned that I was uncomfortable and got 10 free passes. I have always enjoyed seeing movies there and consider it one of the last true 'neighborhood establishment' theaters left in New York, a sadly fast vanishing and valuable asset for communities. This isn't to say I think it is above criticism, but for seeing The Avengers or Chronicle (the last two movies I saw there) on a weeknight, I couldn't ask for anything more. It may not be perfect, but the clientele is routinely well behaved (as opposed to the hell on earth that is UA Court Street) and quiet during films. It would be a total shame if it were to disappear from Park Slope and despite sympathizing with anybody who has a bad time at any movie, it is still routinely packed and I am always happy to give them business.

  • Brandon Rohwer | June 14, 2012 3:40 PMReply

    I went to see WANDERLUST there opening weekend. There was a massive line going just around the corner at the box office (I think this was mostly for THE LORAX). So I got my tickets for the film, and the show was just beginning. I get into the theater and... well, there aren't any seats available.

    So I headed out back to the box office (while more people were heading into the seatless theater) and jumped ahead of the line and said "hey, I need a refund because there aren't any seats in the theater." The people in front of the line asked me what movie that was for, and apparently they and quite a few other people were planning on seeing the same WANDERLUST screening because an awful lot of people left the line.

    Whoever was in charge of the box office that night tried to offer me free passes, which I wasn't having, so fortunately I got my cash back and left.

  • Eric | June 14, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    My favorite part of the pavillion is that there is a hole in the men's room above a toilet in a stall that looks out into the audience of one of the larger theaters. The hole from inside the theater is located just below the screen. And I think its covered up by a board with one nail in it that can be swung like a hinge.

    I will say however that the sound is impressively better than my local theater - Bay Ridge Cinemas. I once complained that theater 1 had a loud buzz and 10 min into the movie wanted my money back - 'theater 1 thats my good sound, people don't complain about theater 1 they complain about theater 5, you must be mistaken.' I have been back a few times and I will tell you theater 1, their big theater has the worst sound I have possibly ever heard - a loud buzz and the front speakers have 0 bass and you can barely hear what the characters are saying.

    There are few independent theaters in brooklyn that are not soul sucking hell holes. I wouldn't eat the popcorn in those places if I was on fear factor. Cobble Hill is probably the best of the worn down smaller theaters, they seem to have more in common with the Manhattan indie theaters. But sometimes you can't beat the convenient locations and cheap matinee prices, even if that's at the risk of a skin rash.

  • Da7e | June 15, 2012 12:05 PM

    There's really a peep hole? Creepy.

  • Jasper | June 14, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    I went to see Cabin in the Woods at an AMC in New Jersey at 10 PM and was told that it was only at midnight. Turns out Moviefone and Google were entirely wrong for the theater that week.

  • Nate | June 14, 2012 3:26 PMReply

    As a movie theater employee, I sympathize. Though, online movie times (and also newspapers) get showtimes mixed up all the time. The Los Angeles Times kept getting our times wrong for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and nothing is worse than a group of angry seniors who still only read newspapers for movie times yell at the poor box office cashier for a mistake they can't control.

    Though our customer service is top-notch. We always apologize, explain that LA Times is not affiliated with us, and we submit our times to Fandango. I always remind them to check a secondary source for showtimes (or simply call ahead).

    The only time we refuse to give out refunds is when the guest doesn't like the movie and they've seen more than 20 minutes (not counting previews). We get a lot of angry people thinking they get their money back after the show by saying it was horrible (we got A LOT of those people for Tree of Life and The American). Anytime there's something wrong with projector, noisy and rude teenagers, or the overall presentation, we always refund them the money, even if they sat through the entire film.

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