Now in its third year, Paragon Theaters in the Kentlands is offering free children’s movies at 10 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, starting June 21 with the full-length feature film, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
The summer movie series is a welcome community program for parents on a budget and those seeking fun activities now that school is out. “Paragon Theaters, with the help of our generous sponsors, wants to ensure that all kids can enjoy the time-tested tradition of movie-going in the summer,” said Mike Whalen, CEO of Paragon Theaters.
“It’s always nice to have the option of free things to do over the summer,” Gaithersburg parent Malvika Patel said. “My kids aren’t in a full-time camp, so having a fun, different activity that happens to be free is great for all of us.” Joelly Belman of North Potomac is also thankful. “During the summer, we are always looking for fun ways to keep the kids entertained. We love meeting up with friends at the movies,” she said.
Belman, like so many area parents, began taking her children to Paragon’s summer movie series when it began in 2012. Then, tickets were deeply discounted to $2. Two years later, said Paragon spokesperson Niki Wilson, “We decided that we wanted to give families a free activity during the summer.” Wilson said the program has been so successful that “we have guests reaching out to us by early spring to ask us what the line-up will be and to confirm that we will still [offer] free movies.”
Theater manager Trevor Hintz said that anyone can enjoy the free movies—not just kids. “We can handle up to 300 customers, but 50 to 100 customers is more typical on any given day.”
The success of the series is based, in part, on the titles Paragon chooses, but other factors play a role. According to Weatherspark.com, the hottest day of the year in Gaithersburg is typically July 22, with an average high of 88 degrees. In addition, the National Association of Theater Owners reported a 2015 national average movie ticket price of $8.43, up from $8.17 last year and $6.41 a decade ago. Both figures point to free movies as being an affordable and comfortable way to relax midweek with family and friends.
Free summer movies expanded in 2016 to include free movies during spring break at each of Paragon’s eight locations in Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, and Virginia. “These were very popular, and we will now continue that offering each year,” Wilson said. The movies were shown in the morning every day of the week of spring break.
The series is sponsored by local businesses, like free weekly e-newsletter and online activity guide Macaroni Kid Rockville-Gaithersburg whose publisher and editor Lani Mark said, “We have received great feedback from our readers that they love having a nice cool place to take kids on a hot or rainy summer day, or even for a bit of a break on a nice day. I have seen lots of parents arrange play dates to the movies and the selections are fun family favorites everyone will enjoy.”
Paragon’s Kentland venue for free summer movies draws a steady stream of new and repeat customers from near and far. But the company’s Virginia locations in Fredericksburg and Newport News boast the largest attendance each summer. The company expects to see higher attendance at all locations this year due to heavier social media engagement.
Higher attendance may mean planning ahead to be sure of getting good seats. While movies begin at 10 a.m., families are encouraged to arrive at about 9:45 a.m. If one auditorium fills up, they often open a second to avoid having to turn anyone away. “There are no advance ticket sales,” said Hintz, “because there are no tickets involved” for free movies. Patrons get raffle-type tickets when they enter the theater. The usual assortment of concession items is available at regular prices.
Paragon’s free summer movies are not intended for camps, but the theater can accommodate them separately. Camp directors should inquire at the theater about field-trip pricing. Paragon’s competitor Regal Cinemas runs a similar movie program. Tickets cost $1 and run two midweek mornings.
Free summer movies are rated G or PG, but Common Sense Media notes that older movies, like “Big” (released in 1988) would likely carry a PG-13 rating by today’s standards for its strong language and some sexual situations. “The Sandlot” (released in 1993), as well, is geared for an age 8-plus audience for its “colorful insults” and the “s” word.
The entire free movie lineup, along with other Paragon Theaters promotions, may be found at paragontheaters.com/promotions. Paragon Kentlands is located at 629 Center Point Way, Gaithersburg.