Imagine sitting in a movie theater with seats that move, shake, and vibrate alongside the action on the screen. Montreal-based D-Box is helping expand that technology, previously found primarily at amusement parks, into cinemas nationwide.
D-Box handled immersive seating for about 50 films this year. That’s up significantly from 19 films in 2009, the year they launched the product with Fast & Furious at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.
The feature is expanding across the nation. Cinemark, the country’s third-largest theater chain with 4,542 screens at 339 sites, announced plans to install D-Box motion chairs in March. Cineplex, the country’s fourth-largest theater chain with 1,683 screens at 165 sites has been a D-Box partner since 2010; D-Box is a presence in about 70 Cineplex auditoriums.
“About 80 percent of people who try it come back,” D-Box vice president of marketing Michel Paquette told Boxoffice. “It’s word of mouth. Have you ever seen advertising for D-Box?” he asks rhetorically. They currently have about 200 screens in the U.S. and hope to surpass 1,000 within five years.
Yet the feature is hardly everywhere. According to a map on the company’s website, the theater closest to the nation’s capital with D-Box seats is still 29 miles away in Baltimore—even though the D.C. area ranks as the sixth-largest metro area in the country.
D-Box faces competition from other players in the immersive-seating market, like 4DX and Luna. While D-Box has partnered with the third- and fourth-largest theater chains, 4DX has a deal with Regal Cinemas, the second largest.
The price may also be a hindrance to widespread adoption. Approximately eight dollars is added to the regular ticket price for a D-Box seat, which in some markets can fully double the cost.
Asked to name a 2017 film that works particularly well with D-Box seats, Paquette cites Wonder Woman. He notes that the average film contains 20 to 35 minutes of motion, so it’s not constant throughout the entire run time. Wonder Woman, an enormously popular film, had the optimal balance of action and non-action sequences for D-Box seats, he says, so the technology could complement without needlessly distracting.
Out of the company’s studios in Burbank, several dozen “motion artists” work to design the seat vibrations and movements timed to the individual frame at 1/24 of a second, after the film has finished production but prior to its release. It takes several hundred hours per film, and the D-Box movements must be approved by a member of the creative team at the studio producing the film.
“Once upon a time, our deep roots were actually into the music business: the making of music, speaker environment, and so on. Many of our original founders are musicians,” D-Box Paquette says. “Then there was a  movie called Earthquake, with a technology associated with it called Sensurround, with subwoofers so large you could feel the rumbling of the earthquake. That was the trigger.
“How could we immerse and bring another level of experience to moviegoers, but without using the subwoofers—because you’re not sitting on the subwoofers? How about we put you onto something and we get you to feel the movie-watching experience?” Paquette says. “If you move people in a very precise way, you get them to participate in what they watch and hear.”