For movie buffs who frequent Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, the theater matters at least as much as the show. After all, they’re here for the themed dinners and sing-alongs, and just may be in costume.
Even as home entertainment systems get bigger, there’s a longing for the thrills associated with the heyday of glamorous movie palaces—for a communal experience that justifies the ticket price and inspires you to get off that sofa. Select new and classic theaters have responded by introducing advanced technology, cool events, and gourmet treats like bacon-fat popcorn.
University lecturer Ross Melnick welcomes this renaissance after years of bland shoebox-type theaters and megaplexes: “It’s all about trying to bring back the style of the past and marry it with the technology of the future.” He cofounded the fan site Cinema Treasures, which devotedly chronicles the world’s coolest movie theaters. “They’re cultural centers within a neighborhood,” says Melnick. “You can see them from a few blocks away—the lights, the marquee, the crowd, the show has already begun.”
Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood has one such theater, as does London’s Notting Hill, where the Electric Cinema screens both crowd-pleasers and obscure vintage documentaries while patrons recline on leather armchairs with footstools and sip champagne cocktails. For travelers, these theaters with personality are yet another way to get an authentic taste of a destination.
Innovators have adapted the moviegoing experience with these creature comforts and even physics-busting 4-D technology—available temporarily at a theater in Hong Kong’s airport and within a few aquariums and museums. Preservationists, too, have done their part, protecting old-school movie palace icons and making them cool for new generations.
When comic book editor and movie buff Greg Lockard moved to San Francisco, he was immediately drawn to the iconic Castro Theatre, where an organ plays medleys before evening screenings and the audience is the city’s liveliest. “I remember it having a touch of the Old Hollywood magic that I grew up on the East Coast daydreaming about,” he explains. “To my uneducated eye, it was the San Francisco of Alfred
Here are another 10 cool movie theaters where you’ll feel—as Hitchcock might put it—spellbound.