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Hamilton movie theater reopening May 22; drive-in opening mid-June
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Hamilton movie theater reopening May 22; drive-in opening mid-June

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The indoor theaters at the Pharaohplex Cinemas Inc. in Hamilton will be reopening on Friday, May 22 with shows of classic movies while meeting health requirements and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A drive-in theater at the Hamilton site will open mid-June.

Pharaohplex Owner Joe McLean said that the coronavirus pandemic has changed the film industry.

“Hollywood has pulled all of their new stuff holding it to next year and has moved a lot of their movies to next fall,” McLean said. “There are only three releases scheduled for July and August so there’s not a lot of new stuff to play.”

Beginning Friday, May 22, the Pharaohplex will be playing older films and entire series of popular films.

“The first week we’ll be playing the first Hunger Games movie, the First Harry Potter movie, the first Indiana Jones movie, Aquaman from the DC series and the first Despicable Me movie,” McLean said. “Each week we’ll play the next one in each series so that all summer long you’ll get to see them all. We’ll be adding in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series this summer.”

The best news yet is that the admission price is only $3, making a trip to the theater affordable during this time of pandemic.

“It is something for families to come out,” McLean said. “They have been stuck at home a long time. Even if they have been watching on DVD or streaming it is excited to watch these classic movies on the big screen again.”

Technically, the theaters can open on Friday, May 15, but since the Pharaohplex opened in 2001, it was time for some upgrades. McLean has been updating the interior and is working to finish up the remodeling and upgrades including new floors, updated colors, a new sound system, new wall decorations and sound tiles for the lobby.

He said the opening date surprised him.

“We were ‘closed until the end of the emergency list’ and I didn’t know how long we would have to stay shut,” McLean said. “Did that mean six months, two years? We didn’t know, so we started this project. We started doing the floors, 9,000 square feet, the day after we closed, St. Patrick’s Day. We had six guys in here grinding it down by hand.”

Additional remodeling plans include installing a soda fountain with ice cream and frozen yogurt and making the wall of water a labyrinth of pipes that drop into each other, water wheels and special underwater LED lighting.

Hamilton will have a drive-in movie theater beginning mid-June.

McLean owns the property behind the theater building and plans to put a large screen on the back of theater two. It will be facing north, and cars will be facing south to watch the movie. Patrons will tune their car radio to a specific FM channel. McLean will broadcast a low-power signal that will reach to the edge of his property for a “state of the art digital drive-In experience.”

“You can play it as loud or as quiet as you want in your own car,” McLean said. “The old Starlight (drive-in) closed down in 1982, I think. It used to be on the highway were Mildenburger Motors is now. I used to go there when I was a kid.”

With social distancing measures implemented drive-ins are having a resurgence.

“People are being a bit nostalgic because so many things are changing and people don’t know what life will be like going forward so they tend to draw back to stuff from the past,” McLean said. “Generationally, grandparents remember drive-ins, people from my generation may or may not remember drive-ins and the younger crowd certainly doesn’t know anything about drive-ins.”

Montana has drive-ins in Butte (Silver Bow Twin), Billings (Amusement Park) and the Last Chance Drive-in the Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds in Helena is set to open on May 20. Recently closed drive-ins were in Columbia Falls (Midway) and Miles City (Sunset).

McLean said his film booking agent has received nearly five calls a day from all over the United States from people interested in starting drive-ins.

With the rumors of AMC Theaters closing, McLean said there might be some buying opportunities in the future in the Missoula market.

“We don’t have anything to do with AMC. We’re not affiliated with them,” he said. “People assume that all the movie theaters are one big company but they are not. We are local, we are independent, we’re the exception. AMC owns all the theaters in the state except for us, Kalispell, Helena and a few smaller independents like in Livingston with one screen.”

The Pharaohplex website (www.pharaohplex.com) says, “We support the local economy and pay taxes in the United States. We are currently employing as many of our fine local employees as we can until we can get back open. We are not going bankrupt. We value our local community and together we will get through this.”

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Related to this story

Voters in the Hamilton, Corvallis and Victor School Districts will decide on a three-mill levy to fund the ongoing operations and maintenance costs of the Bitterroot Public Library on the primary election ballot. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2.

With Independence Day coming, the City of Hamilton is actively seeking contributions to fund the 4th of July fireworks display. To contribute, mail a check to: City of Hamilton, 223 S. 2nd Street, Hamilton, MT 59840 or participate through a retailer or community fundraising project.

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