UPDATED 5/2: with review of Cinemark Multiplaza Premier Theaters and information on the new Cinepolis VIP at Soho Mall
Across the world, you’ll find a lot of differences between cultures. But one thing we all seem to share in common is that we love going to the movies. This is just as true in Panama as it is in the US, the UK, Russia, China, or India. Going to the movies is a cheap activity that the family can enjoy in Panama, particularly if you compare it to the cost of going in the US. My wife and I used to go to the movies almost every week our first few months in Panama, then we dropped off for a while and recently started up again. With the summer movie season coming up soon, we expect to be going a lot more. After we went yesterday, I figured a brief primer on where you could go to the movies, how much they cost, and how the experience works vs. elsewhere would be helpful. So here are some things you should know.
Where to go to the movies
Panama City has two movie chains, Cinemark and Cinepolis. There are 6 locations that you can go in Panama City. Cinepolis has theaters in Multiplaza Mall, Soho Mall, and Metro Mall, and Cinemark has theaters in Los Pueblos, Albrook Mall and Multicentro Mall. Cinepolis also has a VIP theater at its Multiplaza and Soho Mall locations (the Soho Mall location is VIP only) , and Cinemark has its “Premier” theaters at its Multicentro location.
VIP (and premier) vs. Regular Theaters
VIP and Premier theaters are deluxe movie going experiences that feature oversized reclining leather seats as well as food an beverage service in the theater from waitstaff who will take your order and bring it to your seat while you are watching the movie. For anyone who hasn’t done VIP it’s something I recommend everyone do at least once. I actually list in on my Panama City tourist guide as a place to take guests. I’ve been to other “deluxe” style theaters in the US, and they have nothing on Panama VIP.
Personally, I prefer the VIP theaters at Multiplaza to the ones at MultiCentro. While Multicentro’s screens are nicer, the seats are more comfortable at Multiplaza, and there are less of them per theater so they are more spaced out. The theater operations is more organized, there is better food selection, and the service is better at Multiplaza as well.
UPDATE 5/2: Cinepolis opened a new all VIP theater at Soho Mall. I have not been yet (it’s brand new), but some co-workers of my wife say it’s even nicer than the other VIP theaters.
During the evening you can get food delivered to you while you watch the movie (Multiplaza even has sushi), and the food is affordable. We don’t go see every movie in VIP because of the significant price difference between those tickets and regular tickets (see below), but for our top pick movies, it’s a great way to enjoy a night out.
How much does going to the movies cost?
Going to the movies is much more affordable in Panama than the US. While cost of tickets vary across the US, compared to most major cities, it is half price or less to go in Panama. Here is a breakdown of ticket costs by theaters (for adults):
Cinepolis Metromall: $4.50 (2D), $6.00 (3D)
Cinepolis Multiplaza: $5.50 (2D), $8.25 (3D), $14.00 (2D VIP), $15.00 (3D VIP)
Cinepolis Soho Mall VIP: $17 (2D), $18 (3D)
Cinemark Los Pueblos: $4.00 (2D), $6.25 (3D)
Cinemark Abrook: $4.50 (2D), $7.00 (3D)
Cinemark Multicentro: $5.00 (2D), $7.50 (3D), $14.00 (Premier)
There are also discounts for kids tickets and for jubilados/pensionados. Most movie theaters also offer discount tickets on 2D movies Wednesdays, when tickets are $3 or less, depending on the theater. These days can be madhouses though, with long lines and unruly crowds, so sometimes its better to just go when it’s regular price.
Concessions are also significantly cheaper in Panama than in the US. There are no ridiculous prices for popcorn and soda. A large popcorn and a large soda are each less than $3.
Doblada vs. Subtitulada
A big mistake that rookie theatergoers can make is accidentally going to a dubbed movie over a subtitled movie. American movies are brought here in two forms, either with the original audio and spanish subtitles (subtitled), or with Spanish voice actors replacing the voices of the American actors (dubbed). If you speak English, even if you also speak Spanish, you are going to want to go see it subtitled. Always better to listen to Brad Pitt as opposed to the guy they paid $500 to replace Brad Pitt’s voice. In the listing of showtimes, there will always be (DUB) or (SUB) listed next to a the showtimes.
As a general rule of thumb, you will find more movies subtitled in the higher-end theaters in Multiplaza and Multicentro than in other theaters. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be in other theaters, but there may be less a selection of subtitled showings. Subtitled versions also tend to have a shorter amount of time in theaters than dubbed versions, so you’ll want to catch movies close to when they come out here.
In general, you can find a subtitled version of almost every American movie that is released here. The one exception is animated movies. While it is not impossible, animated movies usually are more likely to be dubbed than live action movies, since you are just replacing a voice actor with another voice actor. You may have to do some searching to find subtitled showings for animated movies.
Panamanian movie theaters use assigned seating for all showings, both in VIP and regular theaters. This prevents people from trying to steal each others seats or fighting over seating. You can choose your seats on a first come, first serve basis. You’ll do this online if you buy tickets that way, or at the ticket counter if you buy them at the theater.
If a movie is a popular movie that has just been released, a lot of times it makes sense to buy your tickets ahead of time online to get good seats. Cinepolis does not charge a fee for online purchasing, and I believe the fee for Cinemark theaters is only $0.25.
When do American movies get released in Panama?
There is no uniform answer to this question. For big blockbusters, they are released the same time as they are in the US. Sometimes even the weekend before. For regular movies that aren’t big event movies, the time table varies. Sometimes it can be a couple of weeks, sometimes several months (if at all). For example, the is a movie playing in Panama now called The Best of Me, which was released in theaters in the US in October. Most wide releases make it to Panama, but not all of them do.
As I mentioned earlier, movies tend to stay in the theaters for less time than they do in the US. While it’s typical to see a blockbuster stay in theaters for months in the US, they usually don’t last longer than 3-4 weeks here, and the subtitled versions of the movies are quicker to go than normal.