Top 15 Most Amazing Movie Theaters in the United States
Americans are spending less money and time at the movies. Many are
willing to wait for a movie to come out either in the form of a digital
download, Amazon Video, Netflix, or any of the many readily available types
electronic content media distribution channels. Fortunately, new movies are
still considered worth seeing in the theater by film enthusiasts.
3D movies and their growing popularity have a lot to do with the movie
theater's long-term survival. Movie theaters will hopefully remain a part of American popular
culture as there really is no comparison to watching a bootlegged version of a
movie on a cell phone compared to sitting in a beautifully appointed, lavishly
decorated cinema house.
Digital Movie Theater
Films are meant to move people emotionally, physically, and make a lasting
psychic or metal impression on the audience in a bunch of different and often
unpredictable ways. Film was and still is a method for detachment, a way
of hiding or immersing one's psyche in a fictional state of mind; if only for a
short while. The following theaters are reflective of film's golden age and a
time when movie theaters were almost as interesting as the films.
15) The Senator - Baltimore, MD
The Senator not only boasts a large screen for your viewing pleasure, but it
also has an old-time charm that keeps audiences coming back. It was built in
1939 in a visually bold, art deco style and was added to the National Register of
Historic Places in 1989. Out front there is a colorfully lit marquee and local
sidewalk hall of fame, listing local cinematic accomplishments. Instead of the
modern box office, there is an old-fashioned ticket-sales office where you can
buy your tickets to the film being featured. Inside the building there are
murals dedicated to the history of the theater arts and the building’s original
The food counter has the normal movie theater faire, but a small, yet
important, difference is that they actually offer real butter for the popcorn.
Moving into the actual theater itself, another note of the buildings history
hides the screen. Before every movie, the modern forty-foot curved screen is
covered by a large golden curtain until the movie starts. When it is whisked
aside, both modern and classic movies are played.
The house seats are
comfortable enough to sit in through the whole feature, but there is also
balcony seating available for general seating and party rental. These sky boxes
also allow for user-controlled digital sound. The Senator may have modern sound
features, but still lends itself to the times of old when going out to see a
movie was a special evening activity.
14) AMC Loews Uptown 1 -
Also known as The Uptown, this historical movie theater has been open since
1936 and is a fan favorite. There is general seating as well as balcony seating
in a huge one-room, one-screen theater. But don’t think that means it’s not
quality. The gigantic screen and booming sound system really bring the movie
theater to life.
Since the popularization of 3D movies, this is one of the
largest and best screens to see one of them on. The comfy seats being placed all
in one room also means that there isn’t really a bad seat in the house. Although
they play modern films and have a tidy, clean venue the building itself gives an
old-school feel with the set-up and staff. The young staff is very attentive
giving great customer service that they are famous for as well as offering
discount days when students pay only $7.
After watching the flick, there are
many places to go thanks to the Uptown’s convenient location. The theater only
hosts movies for one week at a time, so grab a metro and head down to this D.C.
classic when one pops up that interests you. You’ll be happy you did.
13) Electric Dusk Drive-In -
Los Angeles, CA
Electric Dusk Drive-In (formerly the Devil’s Night Drive-In) takes the
classic drive-in experience and ramps it up to a modern, edgy once. On their
home page they even say, “We have a large Astroturf area for your white trash
pleasure.” They provide an Astroturf lawn for folks to park their seats or
blankets, but they also have more than enough room for parking.
speakers on the lawn and an fm frequency that will transmit the movie’s audio
track into the car itself. Although they do not have the typical theater
candies, they do have burgers and hot dogs for sale, so you can have dinner
while you watch your movie.
Audience members don’t have to show up hours early
to get a spot, either (although the gates do open 90 minutes early). It’s
designed so there aren’t long lines of cars waiting to get in. Before the show
starts everyone is given a frequent movie-goer card, and there is a pre-movie
trivia contest that can even award a free ticket to the person answering all of
the questions correctly. There are VIP tickets available that give a better
viewing spot and dibs on an early exit, so that you avoid the infamous lines
that form at drive-ins. The venue itself is on top of a parking garage and
currently puts on bi-monthly showings of a variety of films from “Clue” to “How
Harry Met Sally”.
12) Metropolitan Arlington -
Santa Barbara, CA
The Metropolitan Arlington is another stand-alone movie house that is
beautifully crafted. The huge house seating looks like it’s been placed in the
middle of a Spanish courtyard from some long-gone era. The theater house shows
both live shows and movies, one of the most exciting runs being the Santa
Barbara International Film Festival.
These festivals award actors such as
Jennifer Lawrence and directors such as Quentin Tarrentino the American Rivera
Award. Besides these big-name celebrities, the Arlington is open to the general
public for regular viewings. Aside from the large seating area, the walls are
decorated to mimic a night sky, the floor still looks like it is made of Spanish
tile, and the fountains add a quiet beauty to the atmosphere.
Once in the
theater itself, the acoustics are phenomenal, and the seats are slanted well
enough so that you can see over the heads of people in the previous row. While
waiting for the show, a pipe organ rises out of the floor and plays a tune to
entertain the crowd.
Metropolitan Arlington's Organ
The Metropolitan Arlington is a definite must-see not only
for its stunning movie set-up, but also because of its beautiful design.
11) Sundance Kabuki -
San Francisco, CA
Despite being the namesake of the ancient Japanese theater style, the Kabuki
theater is actually quite modern. It does, however, lie in Japantown in San
Francisco. There are quite a few things that set this theater apart from others.
There is a bar that serves alcohol and coffee, an adult theater where you can
enjoy said alcohol during the movie, and restaurant quality food. Before the
show there are two lounges that customers can hang out in until the beginning of
One of the Lounge Areas
Most of the theaters (the ones on the second floor) are set up for
those 21 and over, so plan accordingly. The seats are plush with plenty of leg
room and recline for comfort. If it’s a date night, the seats can actually be
put together to make a loveseat. Of course there are balcony seats as well as
the standard house seats. When purchasing tickets seats are reserved, and part
of the ticket price actually goes toward the independent film makers who are
being showcased. Outside of the theater there is cheap parking right next to the
theater, which is a total advantage in the city.
Yes, this is another old theater. But this one displays its own previous era
charms. It shows movies that aren’t often on display in other places and hosts
one-of-a-kind events. If you’re into the Oscar’s, on the nights leading up to
the show, they play all of the movies that are up for nomination. On the night
of the Oscar’s, there is a party thrown where everyone dresses up in fancy dress
and the paparazzi come out. You can pretend you’re a star for a night.
host the Tampa Film Festival. The screen and sound quality have been updated to
match modern theaters but keep the feel of the previous century theater house.
There are still balcony seats available, and the seating itself is actually
still pretty comfy despite their age. During the summer the Tampa Theater hosts
the Summer Classics, which includes ‘Gone with the Wind” and “Casablanca”.
organist playing for the previous 20 minutes adds to the classy feel of the
movies themselves, but also plays before the modern films are shown. Another
modern amenity is the bar. It’s stocked with beer, wine, and typical theater
food. The theater is decorated in an old-fashioned manner, with stars painted on
the ceiling, and windows built into the walls, sort of like the set of a
playhouse. While there isn’t much to the surround sound, the charm of this
theater is worth the night out in and of itself.
9) The Paramount -
The Paramount Theater has a giant, eye-catching vertical sign in neon
lighting that will catch any passerby’s attention. This building was designed by
the same man who designed the Castro Theater. Inside there are mosaic tiles all
over their 58-foot-high lobby, along with designs on the ceiling, backlit by yet
another neon light. The designs inside range from marble, to wood, to scenes of
different mythologies. The theater hosts movie classics that show in 35 mm film
prints, cartoons, news reels, and other formats.
They also host a game called
‘Dec-O-Win’ after the style of their building along with an organ player and
show girl to entertain the crowd. Velvet seats abound in both the house and
balcony, and shows like Monty Python and Dr. Strangelove play to heckling and
movie quoting. Audiences are encouraged to speak their minds and have a good
time. Parking is plentiful and there is a BART station nearby, so it’s not
difficult to get there. The theater itself has been updated with digital
projections and sound that reaches everyone in the house. Other parts of the
theater remain untouched. There is an actual powder room connected to the ladies
room. Small touches like these set The Paramount apart from other movie palaces
8) ArcLight Cinemas -
Not only does this theater boast excellent film and sound quality, it pushes
itself to be more than a typical theater. Comfy seating can be reserved ahead of
time so there is no need to worry about finding a seat for you and your date.
There are 21-and-over shows that require I.D. to get into due to alcohol being
present. Tickets can be purchased online or at the kiosk on the outside of the
building ahead of time. Another name for this location is Pacific Theatre's
Courtyard of ArcLight Cinemas
The theater itself has a gift shop and revolving art on
the screens outside accompanied by a beautiful courtyard. A multiple-story
parking garage is available for easy parking. During world premieres security is amped up due to celebrity appearances. The premieres are held in Theater #15,
the iconic combed dome section of the ArcLight. Aside from the typical Hollywood
treatment, everyday movie going is just as amazing.
The staff really pampers
their guests and genuinely seems to care about the quality of their experience.
Everything is kept neat and clean, alcohol can be brought into the theater, and
any issues are resolved immediately. The ArcLight isn’t just an upscale movie
theater in Hollywood, it’s an experience.
7) Landmark’s Inwood
This theater really brings an at-home feel to the theater experience. Not
only are the sound and graphics amazing, they also have a roomy house for the
audience and couches or bean bags to lounge on. It does get a bit chilly while
watching the flick, but to solve the problem, the Inwood hands out free
There is a bar available and customers are allowed to bring drinks
into the theater. They do have midnight showings, which is always something more
fun than a typical movie night. Tickets can be bought online to hold the seat.
Honestly, the best part of this theater is the fact that they have such comfy
seating. The couches, bean bags, and love seats are kept impeccably clean (even
compared to a lot of houses). It’s a nice way to have an at-home movie night
while out on the town.
6) The Castro -
San Francisco, CA
This is one of the most iconic theaters in the United States. One of the
oldest theaters around, The Castro opened in the early 1900s. Currently, it
shows modern, classic, and midnight movies accompanied by wonderful popcorn that
takes you back to a by-gone era. Balcony seating is available, as are 1,200
seats in the main house. Movies aren’t the only thing that this movie theater
offers. They also have drag shows, an organist, and interactive sing-alongs to
entertain you between movies.
Those who show up to the sing-alongs also get
goodie bags with gifts in them that are related to the movies that are being
shown. The Castro also holds the Film Noir festival every year in January. All
of the stops are pulled out during this event. Pianists and musicians playing
other instruments accompany the silent film to really give the full experience
of the silent era films. On a regular basis they have started adding live
entertainment in between flicks.
The theater encourages guests to dress up in
keeping with the movie about to show. Although they have more
off-the-beaten-path events, the film house itself is decorated in old Hollywood
charm with chandeliers aplenty. You can almost see the slinky 20s dresses on the
actresses and the gentleman’s double-breasted suits.
5) Studio Movie Grill -
The Studio Movie Grill is a movie theater, but what really sets it apart is
the food selection. There’s definitely more than theater popcorn here. When
waiting to be seated, enjoy a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise). In-theater
dining involves sitting down about twenty minutes before the show and pressing a
button located on your seat to order from the wait person. The best part: it
does not matter when or how often, they will always come.
Whether it’s cheesy
fries or all-you-can-eat pizza, the wait staff will deliver it quickly and
without getting in the way of the screen. They do offer healthy alternatives
like hummus with veggies or fruit bowls. Unlike a few of the other theaters on
this list, Studio Movie Grill offers kid-friendly movies, even though there is
alcohol around. There is plenty of space between each of the rows so leg room
isn’t an issue. The bar in the theater has certain days of the week that offer
half-priced pints or other specials, and tickets aren’t very expensive
(especially after coupons available online).
Keep in mind, just because this
place serves booze and food does not mean that it’s required to be there to
enjoy the movie. The Studio Movie Grill is a great theater to make a night out
of things, whether it’s with a date, a friend, or family.
4) The Ziegfeld -
New York NY
This is the holy grail of classy, old movie palaces. It has hosted tons of
premiers over the last 30 years. It is beautifully maintained and pays attention
to detail. The bathrooms have individual sinks in roomy stalls. The theater
itself is even roomier, fitting everyone into a one-screen house. Set-ups like
these make it easy for everyone to see the screen, although that wouldn’t be a
problem since it’s the largest single-screen cinema in the state.
The rest of
the theater is decorated with plush red velvet, fancy lights, chandeliers, and
elaborate ceilings. Although ticket prices are a bit high, the concession stands
keep the food pricing lower than most big box-office theaters. They also have
three ‘types’ of special movies events: Movies & Mimosas, Insomnia Theater, and
Chelsea Classics. They show just what they sound like they would; movies paired
with mimosa drinks, late-night theater, and classic movie titles. The Ziegfeld
really defies other theaters by offering charm and vintage appeal.
It’s not so
much about the movies here. There is something really special about being in a
place that is older than you are and still looks that way, but very well aged.
It’s obvious from the fact that the crowds still come back time and again, and
have saved it from being shut down previously that, despite its high ticket
pricing, it still keeps going.
3) Mission Tiki Drive-in Theater -
Yes, another drive-in movie theater. But they aren’t all built the same.
Mission Tiki Drive-in has a low admission fee of $7 for a double feature and $1
per child aged 5-9. Talk about a deal. The screens are clean and up-to-date, the
sound is fm transmitted to each car, and they use a state-of-the-art projector
for the film. Unlike other drive-ins with bumpy or dirt roads, this one is
completely paved for easy riding.
The menu has everything from Mexican food to
pizza, and (you guessed it) everything is tiki themed. The box office and the
food stand have tiki paraphernalia draped around them and there is even a little
island off to the side that has tiki statues hanging out. The best thing about
the Mission is that it’s so family oriented. Their mission statement claims that
family time is rare and movies are expensive. That’s why they keep their prices
low and have so many spots open.
Mission now has four screens for your viewing
pleasure since they remodeled back in 2006. The set-up is perfect for family
time or date time since everything is within the car, but it’s also all right
for a night out with your friends. ‘Silence is golden’ is not a rule that is
enforced here. People are encouraged to get as loud and crazy as they wish.
2) Red Rocks Amphitheater -
The Red Rocks Amphitheater is by far the most breath-taking venue on this
list. While most of the time it hosts music events, during the summer it puts on
Film on the Rocks. Before every movie, a band plays a set, which shows off the
amazing acoustics the natural canyon has created. If you’d like, you can bring a
picnic with you, but food vendors and restaurants abound.
They do sell beer and
water, but if you want any other beverages, bring your own. There is a total mix
of people that attend the movie festival, from young to old. Because of the
families that are there as well, the comedians and bands refrain from cursing on
stage. Movies like “Risky Business”, “Back to the Future”, and “Rocky Horror
Picture Show” play under the clear night sky. Interaction is encouraged, and
people can heckle or laugh all that they want. Early-bird tickets are only $25,
and the day of the event they are $45.
Either way, it is not that expensive if
there is a car full of people involved. The thing that separates The Red Rocks
Amphitheater from a movie drive-in or a regular movie theater is that it has a
breath-taking view of Colorado, and that is something that just doesn’t exist
1) The Alamo Drafthouse -
San Antonio, TX
The Alamo Drafthouse is placed at number one for its multitasking. The Alamo
Drafthouse does food, beer, drinks, movies, and entertainment all in one. When a
movie is in play there are no children allowed, so no crying while it’s playing.
They also have a no-cell-phone rule so strict that whoever is using one will get
kicked out after one warning. Normally, a theater plays ads for the revenue, but
Their thought is that you’ve already paid for the film, why watch
something completely unrelated? Instead, they custom tailor a preshow event to
match the movie. Their menus are updated every few months so food is always
interesting, and, of course, they’ve got the brews. Local breweries have a top
spot in the lineup, followed by cocktails that match the theme of that day’s
Every now and then they have quote-along events where the
silence rule is broken. There is something for everyone at The Alamo, and they
make it so easy to enjoy.
Movie theaters all offer different ways to watch a movie. The overall
ambience and extra touches that the theater staff offer make them unique. Check
out one of the movies theaters listed, or a local, independently owned theater
to get a one-of-a-kind experience.