Muvico: Judgment Day
A chain of luxury movie theaters brings fame and fortune to its founder, a visionary immigrant. But the founder and his investors fall out.
With just $700 to his name, 19-year-old Hamid Hashemi left his native Iran during its 1978 Islamic revolution, found his way to Boca Raton, got into real estate investing and in 1984 bought a small movie theater in nearby Coral Springs.
With radio and TV investor and arts philanthropist Joseph Amaturo and others, Hashemi built a six-screen theater in Miami-Dade in 1988 -- one of the first with high-end sound and stadium seating rather than traditional sloped floors.
He was just warming up. By 1998, the first of his signature luxury theaters opened in Orlando and south Florida. His Muvico chain would become the Neiman-Marcus, as Hashemi liked to say, of the theater business. He aimed for unsurpassed luxury and service: Wider seats and more legroom, 20-plus screens, child care, balcony seating for high-paying customers, champagne and shrimp along with Raisinets -- all housed in over-the-top, individually themed splendor. In Broward, Muvico's palace featured an Egyptian motif. In Orlando, it held a 23-foot flying ship.
"They outdo everybody in terms of quality," says theater owner Robert Bucksbaum, president of California-based industry tracking firms ReelSource and Exhibitor Relations. Muvico "put a lot of money in their theaters. I know as a theater owner, it takes a long time to get a return," Bucksbaum says.
Ah, the money. To fund his vision as it grew, Hashemi surrendered control. "I can give some advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs," he says ruefully.