Crossing Borders: Austrian Exhibitor Cineplexx and Their Culture of Cinema Innovation

One size certainly does not fit all at Cineplexx, which provides innovative design, cutting-edge technology, and premium experiences to diverse moviegoers across central and southeastern Europe. This multinational cinema chain represents a rarity in the European and global cinema space: Owned in majority by the Langhammer family, along with managing partner Christof Papousek, Cineplexx is a privately owned company that since its founding in Austria has expanded to operate cinemas across 12 countries.

A Storied History

Though officially founded in the 1990s amidst Austria’s multiplex boom, the story of Cineplexx dates back to the early 1950s, when Anton Langhammer joined the newly formed Constantin Filmproduktion und Filmverleih, a Germany-based distribution outfit with a subsidiary in Austria. The Austrian segment of Constantin distributed films through the mid-1960s. Faced with rising competition from television and decreased cinema attendance, Langhammer made the bold decision to add cinema operations to Constantin’s portfolio: “I never wanted to be a cinema owner,” he said later, per a history of the company published by Cineplexx. “But KIBA [Austria’s main exhibitor at the time, owned and run by the capital city of Vienna] practically forced us. It was so difficult to position our films there that we were forced to establish our own venues where our repertoire was played.”

Growth came in the decades that followed, paired with a barrage of financial and ownership adjustments that, among other things, resulted in Constantin’s Austrian operations gaining independence from the larger company. The ’90s saw a merger with KIBA, and cinema operations were then spun off into the subsidiary Cineplexx Kinobetriebe GmbH. In 1999, the Viennese government moved out of the exhibition business, selling its shares to Constantin Film-Holding GmbH; later, in 2002, the circuit became completely owned by the Langhammer family. Growth in Austria was followed by expansion into other countries in the region, accomplished when Constantin, along with Christof Papousek, the managing director, founded Cineplexx International GmbH to explore the development of new markets.

Today, Cineplexx operates 70-plus cinemas across Austria, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Greece, Italy, and Romania. Eight of those cinemas opened between the years of 2020 and 2022. In terms of future growth, Papousek sees the most potential in Romania, Moldavia, and Greece, noting that “in some regions the markets need a quality restart and [the creation of the] next generation of movie theatres in order to bring markets back to sustainable admission levels.”

Crossing Borders

Though Cineplexx’s central office is in Vienna, the bulk of its operations are run through country-specific offices. This allows Cineplexx to adjust to the nuances of each country’s cultural and operational realities and to successfully run in a dozen different countries.

“It starts with purchasing power, which differs strongly from country to country,” says Papousek. “But also expectation-wise: People in [some] countries dress up” and treat cinemagoing more as an event; in those areas, it makes more sense for cinemas to be located within a mall or a similar space with a variety of food options.

Programming, too, needs a territory-specific touch, as “the most successful movies of the year are [frequently] those that never make it to international markets,” Papousek explains. Albania’s two highest-grossing films of 2022 were both local films, per data released in UNIC’s annual report on European moviegoing. The top-grossing film in Romania that year was a local production, as were two films apiece in the respective top fives of Serbia and Slovenia. In 2023, says Papousek, “of course, Barbie was as successful [in our theaters] as it was globally, but there’s another world of content that nobody else knows of but is even more successful” locally. “This is why we have local teams that do the buying and booking and programming. It’s crucial not to be too centralized. Also, from a marketing perspective, it is crucial that there are marketing managers in each territory who know the territory and its particular dynamics and needs. No market works like any other.”

As an example of country-by-country customization in action, take one of Cineplexx’s newer locations, their seven-screen multiplex in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. As Papousek explains, one of the motivating factors during the design process was Slovenia’s very high standard of living, which Ljubljana’s existing multiplex (not run by Cineplexx) no longer met, making the opening of the new cinema “the right moment to deliver something to the people [that] they were waiting for.”

Moving Onward

Some things, however, are the same no matter what country you’re in; one of those is Cineplexx’s commitment to innovation. The chain’s Ljubljana location was the ICTA’s (International Cinema Technology Association) most recent EMEA Award winner for Best New Build Cinema; it boasts 100 percent laser projection and three auditoriums with Dolby Atmos. “There is constant investment in our locations,” says Papousek—in terms of projection and sound technology, but also things like software and design trends. “There is so much change in the industry these days, that [we always have to be] flexible and agile” in terms of eventization and premiumization of the cinema experience.

In terms of premium, event-worthy cinema experiences, Cineplexx boasts four Dolby Cinema locations, two of them the first in Vienna; seven Imax screens, including plans for two laser Imax screens per a March 2023 deal with Imax (including the first Imax in Kosovo); several MX4D screens, with immersive seating and environmental effects; and, in their Wienerberg cinema in Vienna, the circuit’s first Onyx LED screen. The latest location, the Cineplexx Westfield SCS, is the first to feature Cinegold Boxx, their new luxury seating category. All of the screens at Westfield SCS feature Dolby Atmos sound, except for the smaller premium suites, where moviegoers pass through a separate entrance, past a bar designated for premium customers, and on to enjoy their movie in an intimate, luxurious atmosphere with in-theater table service.

Westfield SCS is the latest addition to Cineplexx’s fleet of cinemas. The cinema reopened in December of 2023, a few years after it was purchased from UCI Cinemas. “With the name Cineplexx comes a certain standard,” says Papousek, but “what we said when [embarking on] this refurbishment [is that we would] not just bring the location up to the Cineplexx standard. We would define the standard in new ways”—a philosophy of entrepreneurship and innovation that is a Cineplexx standard all its own.
“There is constant development” at Cineplexx, says Papousek. “We never stand still.”

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