A Few Good Movie Theaters

Posted in Side Topics at 12:00 pm by Stephen

We talked about the theater-going experience in Episode 4, and as the guy on the side of the theaters, I thought it would be useful to point out a few really good movie theaters. These are theaters embody what the theatrical experience should be all about.

Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA. It costs $14 to see a movie at the Arclight in the evening, but it’s worth it. The seats are big and wide, the only advertising they show before movies are a few minutes of trailers, and there are actual ushers in the auditorium during the movie. It’s the place to see movies in Los Angeles and gets crowded on weekends, but the ability to buy tickets online and reserve your seats the way you would at a concert or a sporting event means you don’t have to show up an hour early just to get decent seats.

The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, CA. A great revival theater that specializes in interesting double features, The New Beverly is a place where you can see a pair of French gangster flicks one night and two Friday the Thirteenth movies the next. It’s only $7 to see both movies, and the audiences tend to be fairly respectful of the films.

The Ken Cinema in San Diego, CA. Owned by the Landmark Theatre group, which is a nationwide chain of mostly arthouse theaters, the Ken is a classic movie house built in 1946. It’s just got the one (large) screen, but it uses an old-fashioned projector that makes that classic whirring sound. The selection of movies — current independent releases or revivals of classics — is nice, as is the atmosphere. I really dig the old movie palaces, with big auditoriums.

This list is pretty specific to Southern California, and I’d be interested in hearing if any readers/listeners have suggestions of good movie theaters elsewhere. One place I desperately want to make a pilgrimage to is The Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, a theater in Austin, TX known for serving meals and drinks during the films and programming an interesting blend of content. It topped Entertainment Weekly’s 10 Theaters Doing it Right list, and by all accounts is a great place to see a movie or two.


  1. mindless_drivel (29) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Interesting list. Now all you need to do is make one for us Easterners.

    I usually go to the local cinaplex so I’m pretty ignorant of these specialty theaters. I would love to have a theater like the Arclight near me though. I wouldn’t see every movie there, but it would be a nice alternative to the normal movie experience.

  2. Gahalyn (22) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    There was one that Lynette and I went to in DC….. I don’t remember what it was called though. It was nice and big, with I think just one huge screen.

  3. Grishny (156) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    There is a theater in my old hometown, Dayton, Ohio, called the Neon. I never actually went there, but I heard lots of good things about it. I don’t know if you’d call it an “art house” theater or not, but the movies they tend to show there are usually not mainstream. They have a website at http://www.neonmovies.com/ if you care to learn more about it. I seem to recall them showing a lot of old classics when I lived there.

  4. Sam (405) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH, is an interesting theater. Nothing special on the picture and sound. The seats are uncomfortable. It’s hard to get to, tucked away on a side street as it is in a town with such scarce parking. But it’s a place with a lot of character and historical significance to it, and the ambiance sure beats the tar out of the boxes they stick you in at multiplexes.

    An excerpt of its web site: “The historic 900-seat theater built in 1878 is the oldest theater in New Hampshire, second oldest in New England and one of only fifteen theaters built in the 1800’s that are still operating in the U.S. The Music Hall has been nominated to the National Historic Register by the NH State Historic Preservation Office and in November 2003, the U.S. Senate voted the theater onto the prestigious list of America’s Treasures.”

    The theater perhaps hosts more stage shows and other live events than actual movies. But they do run a lot of small studio/arthouse/classic films there (I saw Crouching Tiger and Memento at this theater), and they host the Seacoast Film Festival during the summer. It’s probably not worth a pilgrimage to visit it, but it’s arguably the best place in the area for a vintage theater-going experience.

    For cutting edge technology, New Hampshire residents pretty much have to trek down to Massachusetts, for example to one of the two IMAX/Jordan’s Furniture theaters on I-95.

  5. Dave (130) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    Jordan’s Furniture theater?? Explain.

    I think a more fun topic would be *bad* theaters. I remember when I lived in Dover, NH, there was a second-run theater nearby that I never visited but my roomate and his friend described as “a big-screen TV at the end of a long hallway.” One time they were watching a movie there, and the picture was misframed for the first half, and the audio was out of synch for the second half. They felt ripped off even though they’d only spent a buck to see the movie.

    As for good theaters, I can’t really think of any. I mostly frequent the big chain theaters when I go to movies around here, and they certainly aren’t anything special. There is a theater in Conway, NH, that I visited once that is quite old and has quite a history, but I wouldn’t really call it a great place to see a movie (especially considering the one movie I saw there was Seven Years In The Movie Theater.)

  6. Sam (405) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Jordan’s Furniture is this local chain of furniture stores that are quite literally the size and shape of a large shopping mall: multi-story, with long, winding hallways and siderooms and elevators. The one we went to in Reading, MA, had shops and a cafe at one end, a candy store made out of candy, a fountain/light show rig, and, inexplicably, a place where you could get trapeze lessons. But most of the real estate of the complex is devoted to furniture sales.

    And at one end, there is the IMAX theater. The really astonishing part is that the IMAX theater is obviously huge, but only comprises a small portion of the building.

    I poked around and dug up not just pictures but a virtual tour. Head to the “find store” page for Jordan’s. Scroll down to “Our Reading, MA Store” and hit the “tour” link. A new window will show up, and it’ll take a minute to load. After the two owner dudes disappear, you can move the mouse inside the viewing area to control where the camera points. Click on hallways or select options from below the image to move around.

    Recommended stops: Click “Enter Store” to get in. Click “Bridge,” and turn the camera way over to the right. That’s the trapeze rig, where they give rides and lessons. Click on the “Cafe” link underneath, then “Water Fireworks.” Then go back three steps and look at the “Sweet House.” Anywhere you see color on the walls, ceiling, or pillars, it’s candy, tucked in behind glass.

    All of the above is only what there is to see at one little end of the building. Hit the “IMAX Lobby” link, then “Lobby,” to get to where the actual furniture store starts, which is, as I say, the bulk of the building.

    It’s a completely crazy, completely cool place. And definitely a great place to see a movie. We went down once to see a double feature of The Polar Express in 3D and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and just had a blast.

    The other Jordan’s with an IMAX theater is in Natick, MA, and there is also a virtual tour for that at the link above. I’ve never been there, but from the looks of the tour, it has an entirely different set of lunatic novelties in it.

  7. Eric (44) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    I live in the same area as Stephen, and I’m curious about the terrible movie theaters you mentioned.

  8. Gahalyn (22) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    Nothing special on the picture and sound. The seats are uncomfortable. It’s hard to get to, tucked away on a side street as it is in a town with such scarce parking. But it’s a place with a lot of character and historical significance to it, and the ambiance sure beats the tar out of the boxes they stick you in at multiplexes.

    Same with the Byrd Theatre in Richmond - http://byrdtheatre.com

  9. siochembio (82) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    Wow, NH mentions! I used to live in Dover, so I went to the Portsmouth Music Hall on numerous occasions.

    Now, for harder to find releases in western NY, I frequent http://www.little-theatre.com/. Seats and sound aren’t the best, but the crowd is always well-behaved and it’s a chance to see films that otherwise aren’t making it around. There’s a cafe as well, which is pretty neat, and concession stand prices are dirt cheap ($1 for a large hot chocolate, $2 for popcorn).

  10. Sam (405) said,

    October 25, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    siochembio: Wow! I drive through Dover twice a day, as I commute to Portsmouth. Small world thing, I guess — too bad you’re not still here.

    Welcome, by the way.

  11. Randy (21) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 4:08 am

    There is a similar theater to the Alamo Drafthouse in Denton, Tx, where I used to live. You could sit and have dinner and drinks with a movie. I never actually got to go there, it opened just before I moved. I heard from others it was nice.

    In Vegas, there were great theaters opening in every casino it seemed. They were all stadium seating with great sound systems. And a couple of casinos had the Imax screens and showed the Star Wars films there. That was great. I miss that town sometimes.

  12. Stephen (221) said,

    October 26, 2006 at 9:12 am

    I didn’t even mention IMAX theaters, which are just all kinds of cool. My only complaint is that watching 35mm films on IMAX screens looks a little cruddy, as the grain becomes overwhelming at that large scale. IMAX-specific movies are shot on 70mm and have roughly 3 times the resolution of most the films shot on 35mm. It’s still an impressive way to see a lot of pictures, but boy do I wish we had studios shooting on large-format film.

  13. Ellmyruh (20) said,

    October 27, 2006 at 1:01 am

    I rarely go to movie theaters these days, mostly because the odds of having an annoying person in the audience are just too high to justify paying the admission price. After a movie has been out for a few weeks, my local movie theater (12 screens, built about less than a decade ago) shows the films for $3.50 on Tuesdays, so that’s a bonus, but I still haven’t been to the movies in months. I think the last movie I saw in the theater was Superman Returns, and that was with friends in a different city.

    Anyway, one theater memory that stands out is when I saw Star Wars Episode 1 in this theater. The main page for that theater says it was built in 1937, and I believe it. It was hot in there, the movie was long (scroll down to see the huge movie reels) and I’d never seen any Star Wars movies, so the combination made me say, “Um, what was the big deal?” I’ve still never seen any other Star Wars movies, and they’re still not in my Netflix queue, either.

    But the one theater I will never forget is the Palace Theatre (pictures here) in Weed. It was built in the 1920s and has both a stage and one movie screen. It’s gone through various periods of being open and closed, since a town of 3,000 people has trouble supporting a movie theater (which, by the way, is down the street from the bowling alley). I saw 101 Dalmatians there when I was a kid, and I will never forget a winter dance production in which yours truly was a little ballerina dancing the part of an ice skater. The side steps leading up to the stage were old and wooden, and a bunch of us got freaked out because someone supposedly saw a black widow spider under them.

  14. Sam (405) said,

    October 27, 2006 at 9:44 am

    Ellmyruh: Something really important here is that, to your question “What was the big deal?” the answer is, “Not what you saw.” The big deal was never over Episode 1. It is commonly regarded as the weakest of the six Star Wars movies, but it goes beyond that. The defining entertainment for a whole generation, the cultural phenomenon, the “big deal” was over Episode 4, and subsequently also 5 and 6.

    The prequels were never a big deal at all, except in how inferior they are. Even people that liked the prequels (like Stephen and me) are quick to admit that. Had Episodes 4-6 never existed, Episode 1 would have, I’m sure, been seen as an ok special effects timewaster and quickly forgotten. Because the fact is, the prequels just aren’t all that much *fun*.

    An analogy would be trying those stale mini-doughnuts you can get out of vending machines and deciding you’re not interested in desserts.

    I would definitely urge you to throw Episode 4 into your queue. I put about nine chances out of ten that you’ll like it (999 out of 1000 that you’ll like it better than Episode 1), and if you do, queue up 5 and 6 and consider 1-3 optional.

  15. Stephen (221) said,

    October 28, 2006 at 12:39 am

    I think taking Episodes 1-3 as “optional” is a good way of looking at it. It’s like The Godfather: even the people who like Godfather III always point out that it’s not really on par with the first two. Best just to pretend that those are really good fan fiction and are not cannonical.

  16. Ellmyruh (20) said,

    October 28, 2006 at 3:25 am

    Sam: If you and Stephen keep talkiing about all sorts of interesting movies I haven’t seen, thus making me add them to my queue, I’ll never even get close to Episode 4.

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