Mundane megaplexes may have conquered the United States, but there are still a handful of breathtaking and innovative theaters that encourage patrons to experience, not simply watch, the Movies. You just have to know where to look. That’s why we’re counting down the Top 10 Movie Theaters in America. Devoted fans of the Silver Screen are in for a knockout time.
1. Alamo Drafthouse
The legendary Austin movie house has every movie geek’s number (and great food and beer, to boot). In a nutshell: replace bland previews with hilarious offbeat movie/TV clips, greasy popcorn with greasy jalapeno poppers, watered down coke with well-crafted cocktails, sloppy nachos with gourmet pizza, and mediocre blockbusters with great cinema. It’s not just the menu, or even the refreshing lineup of flicks, that distinguishes the theater from its counterparts, however. The programming makes the Drafthouse difference – scratch your head along to a quirky movie lost in time every “Weird Wednesday” at midnight, or laugh along to “Master Pancake Theater,” which stars a trio of comedians who rip B movies to shreds. Film freaks from around the world, both unknown and well-known (Quentin Tarantino is a frequenter), come to Austin just for the Alamo Drafthouse experience. There are a total of nine theaters in the US, as well as a mobile Rolling Road Show.
New York City
If you’re a movie buff who genuinely knows his or her stuff, brace yourself – this humble little theater, which straddles the line between Soho and Greenwich Village, and entertainment and education, is after your heart. The non profit “is committed to presenting an international array of films that treat diverse social, political, historical and cultural realities.” In other words, attending the Film Forum is almost like attending film school. Picky cinephiles have lots to choose from, including foreign documentaries and breakthrough indies.
TCL Chinese Theater (Grauman’s)
The giant red-and-gold structure sticks out like a sore thumb on Hollywood Boulevard. But movies are hardly the main attraction here. Instead, tourists find themselves willingly trapped in the forecourt, comparing their hand and foot prints to those of Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, and Clint Eastwood. If you look close enough, you can spot Trigger’s hooves and R2D2’s tread marks!
This Baltimore art deco theater has just one screen – so, much ado about nothing? Nah. The stately, 70-year-old Senator Theatre is actually one of the National Register of Historic Places, and welcomes famous patrons like Matt Damon, John Travolta, and Barry Levinson.
The glorious Tampa Theater opened its doors in 1926, and wowed each and every moviegoer who walked through them. The theater’s epicurean and Mediterranean design, from inside and out, captivated imaginations for decades. But the aging Tampa Theater was nearly shut down in the 70s. Locals couldn’t stand to see their beloved theater get lost in the history books, so they tried to save it. And to the benefit of movie lovers everywhere, they were successful.
You’d think Chicago’s biggest theater would sell tickets to Transformers and Iron Man, and [insert other action-packed adventure/Pixar movie/rom com here]. However, it’s the independent and foreign films that get all the limelight at the Music Box.
No, that’s not a mini version of Epcot you’re looking at. Nor is it a giant golf ball. That’s the Cinerama Dome, which – although renovated – was built in the 60s and preceded its extension, the posh 14-screen ArcLight Cinema. First-run flicks and revivals are the specialty at these theaters. So is food. The ArcLight offers up a café and snack bar. As an added bonus, moviegoers enjoy the convenience and relief of assigned seats (no more dirty looks from passersby as you try to save ten spots for your buddies).
Manhattan, New York
The Ziegfeld was one of the last single-screen movie palaces ever built, and today, it’s the last of its kind in Manhattan. Despite its age, the Ziegfeld’s all about glitz and glam, as it’s a regular host of movie premiers.
San Francisco, California
Known for its elegant architecture and eclectic mix of movies, this vestige from the 1920s is one of the oldest movie palaces around. It makes sense, then, that classic films often screen here.
This vintage theater is a nice reminder of the 50s, but it also boasts cutting-edge technology, taking movie watching to a whole new, high-tech level. You can catch both sleeper hits and blockbusters at the Riverview.