Mattituck movie theater dropping first-run films

The final credits have rolled on new releases at Mattituck Cinemas.

The theater in Mattituck Plaza that has entertained North Fork residents for decades will no longer show first-run films.

Marc LaMaina, the owner of Lucharitos Burrito Bar next door, partnered with the theater’s owners to take over the concessions in 2021. He has since been busy overhauling several of its eight screening rooms in recent months. LaMaina opened the Axe and Smash axe throwing lounge there last month and promises more family-friendly entertainment and activities coming down the pipeline.

Theater One, however, has been spared the proverbial axe and will remain open as a revival house to showcase older films Thursdays through Sundays.

“Our general manager of this Lucharitos location, Matt Chizever, will be curating a list of movies every month, second-run movies,” Mr. LaMaina said. “We’re not going to have any blockbuster, new release movies.”

Although arrangements are not yet final, Mr. LaMaina hopes Mattituck Cinemas will showcase its first batch of revival movies this month. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the age of streaming have devastated the movie theater business nationwide. Empty seats and low ticket sales have become common, even for the latest blockbusters.

“There’s just no demand for a new movie for more than 72 hours here in Mattituck,” Mr. LaMaina said. “Even a movie like ‘Avatar: The Way Of The Water.’ It did great for the first weekend and then after that it’s done.”

Upon securing a new release, a theater must showcase that film for a fixed amount of time, regardless of ticket sales. 

“When you do first-run [movies], there are contractual requirements that are stricter than when you show a repertory film,” said Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, artistic director at the Sag Harbor Cinema. “You are bound to those contracts as far as how long you keep those films in the theater, and the percentage at the box office that you have to give the studio is bigger than when you have anything that is a second run.”

Sag Harbor Cinema balances costly new blockbusters such as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Elvis” with older Disney classics and European art-house films — not only for economic stability, but for greater audience engagement. For an establishment like Mattituck, which currently runs only a single screen, low audience interest in a film that’s locked in for several weeks can dry up a needed revenue stream.

In lieu of multiple films, Mattituck Cinemas, owned by the Cardinale family, will soon house an array of attractions for family outings, groups of friends or date nights. Smash Paint, where visitors will don jumpsuits and goggles to create messy masterpieces, is the next of several crowd-pleasers Mr. LaMaina plans to offer. Come early March, he expects to unveil three paint rooms in which guests “smash” paint onto canvas in a variety of ways, including whacking paint-dipped tennis balls with rackets.

In the coming months, Ricky Saetta, also known as Greenport retro artist Ricky TeeVee, will complete an immersive 1980s-themed wonderland mini golf course, boasting nostalgic holes nodding to MTV, “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” and “Saturday Night Fever,” among other icons of popular culture.

Mr. LaMaina also teased live entertainment coming to Theater One this spring. He plans to remove six rows of seats from to install a 16’ by 16’ wrestling ring. Collaborating with professional wrestlers Joe Ocasio of East Meadow and Len Totora of Southold, the venue will host live matches. The ring will also double as a stage for live music, open mic nights, comedy, karaoke and other performances.

Despite all the changes coming to the theater, Mr. LaMaina, a Greenport native, has not forgotten his personal experience growing up with Mattituck Cinemas and what it has meant to the community. While local families may no longer be able to catch the latest blockbusters, he believes the overall experience of going to the movies — the smell of the popcorn, the dimming of the lights and the big screen magic – will remain alive and well.

“I don’t think it matters if it’s a new movie or an old movie. I think it’s the experience of coming to this nostalgic theater,” Mr. LaMaina said. “That’s the only reason why we’re doing this. It’s to carry that tradition on.”