Cinema Magic Updated for the 21st Century

Rolando Rodriguez on bringing the moviegoer’s experience to the next level

Rolando Rodriguez has dedicated his career to the movie theater industry, and with good reason: he adores films. One of his first jobs was as an usher in a local theater in Kansas City. In college, he  switched majors when he realized a business degree could be his ticket (no pun intended) to a long-term career in cinema. He spent 30 years and held a variety of roles with AMC Theatres and Rave Cinemas before coming into his current role of president and chief executive officer of Marcus Theatres, a position he’s held since 2013.

Rodriguez can’t remember a time when he didn’t love movies. Growing up in Cuba, he remembers having three favorite activities: baseball, boxing, and going to the movies. “It was the most fun you could have as a family, aside from going to the beach,” he says. “Watching movies fascinated me, and my amazement with film only grew.”

His knack for business grew alongside his love of movies. “I’ve been described by my peers as an offensive coach,” he says, drawing a sports analogy. “I like to grow businesses, and I like to turn them around.”

The only time he took a hiatus from the cinema arena was after completing his MBA. He had studied the Walmart business model, and when the mega retailer recruited him, Rodriguez came on board as the VP of operations and regional general manager  from 2006–2011.

When he left for the CEO position at Rave Cinemas, he experienced some “sticker shock,” as he describes it, at the jump in ticket prices that had occurred in his absence. But by the time he served in the same role for Marcus Theatres, he was able to take the key principles of staying ahead of the competition that he had learned at Walmart and translate them into theater industry success. For example, he implemented “$5 Tuesdays”, a weekly return to value-oriented entertainment. He also implemented the Magical Movie Rewards® (MMR) Loyalty Program, which sends out special deals to regular Marcus Theatre customers via email. MMR members receive free popcorn on “$5 Tuesdays”.

But the biggest trend in today’s movie-going experience is the overall extension of that experience. An increasing number of theaters are going way beyond traditional concession stands to offer in-house dining as well as sports bar-style lounges. Now, patrons can essentially spend an entire evening “at the movies” as opposed to just a couple of hours. “You’ll see the consumer enjoying those amenities before, during, and after the movie,” Rodriguez notes. “They’ll eat dinner at the theater, see the film, and then talk about it afterwards while watching their favorite sport on the big-screen lounge TV.”

While it’s easy to associate all the perks, discounts, and dining options as a reaction to the 21st century competition of online and/or home-based entertainment, Rodriguez thinks the deck is inevitably stacked against the latter. “Yes, the in-home experience, the ability to watch a film on an iPad, is a competitive factor,” he concedes. “But there’s really no comparison to sitting in front of a 70-foot screen, watching Ant Man with Dolby sound in a DreamLounger reclining seat, enjoying a meal and a cocktail, with other people laughing around you.”

For all he loves about the movie-going experience, there is one big caveat for Rodriguez: the virtual absence of Latino actors in mainstream leading roles. But having minorities like him in executive positions within the film distribution industry can only help—that’s why he stays active in the Milwaukee community, mentoring young, business-minded Hispanics who just might have an impact down the road. “It’s part of what I truly believe that, as Hispanic leaders, we need to—help build the next leaders that come, and the future leaders that need to come.”