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15 of the most unique movie theaters in the US

Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC opened in 1926.
Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC opened in 1926.(KAD Photo // Shutterstock)
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 12:39 PM EDT
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Entrance to the Music Box Theatre at night
Barry Brecheisen // Getty Images

15 of the most unique movie theaters in the US

The COVID-19 pandemic split most movie-going Americans into two groups: the nostalgia-seekers and the streaming converts.

For the former, the act of watching a movie in a theater, with limited titles to choose from, snacks that engage the senses, enveloping and transportive darkness, and the collective emotional experience, feels inexplicably simple. It was an activity that 1 in 3 three Americans said they really missed.

Perhaps it’s because the emergence of streaming services has made movie-viewing a more singular and isolating experience, focused on volume and convenience. A Nielsen survey from April 2022 found that nearly half of all streaming service customers find the increasing number of choices overwhelming. As of February 2022, there are more than 800,000 unique titles to stream across all platforms.

Despite the deluge of choices, nearly half of regular pre-pandemic moviegoers have not returned to the theater, and more than 60% of all Americans did not see a single movie in theaters in 2021, according to a Gallup poll.

Adults in the U.S. saw an average of 1.4 movies in a theater in the past 12 months compared to roughly five movies annually when the survey was last conducted. At the end of 2021, more than 600 movie theaters across the country remained closed due to the financial and operational impacts of the pandemic. About half of the shuttered theaters were small, with three screens or fewer.

Still, there are cinemas dotted around the country that survived and continue to bring new and old narratives to their communities, fostering a love for the art of film. Today, many theaters serve as cultural centers, not just movie theaters, bringing unique and diverse perspectives through film and expanding the use of their venues to host community events, lectures, and other performance arts.

Giggster compiled images of 15 unique movie theaters from around the country that continue to provide one-of-a-kind experiences for movie lovers of all kinds.

Entrance to the Violet Crown Cinema
Gerry Hanan // Getty Images for SXSW

Violet Crown Cinema - Austin, TX

Violet Crown Cinema features a wide variety of films, from first-run blockbuster releases to new indie hits to timeless classics. It also boasts a unique offering of menu options including prosciutto and goat cheese pizza, beet hummus, and of course, popcorn and warm pretzels.

Entrance to the Music Box Theatre at night
Barry Brecheisen // Getty Images

Music Box Theatre - Chicago

Music Box Theatre, opened in 1929, is Chicago’s largest theater operated full-time, and a premier venue for independent and international films. The cinema’s primary theater features a dark blue ceiling, light-up stars, and swirling cloud formations reminiscent of a night sky. The atmosphere has been compared to an open-air palazzo in Italy.

Will Labahn and Keith Garcia outside Sei FilmCenter
RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Sie FilmCenter - Denver

Sie FilmCenter is Denver’s only cinematheque that is open year-round and the only nonprofit theater in Colorado. The theater, which features a mix of first-run exclusives and more than 600 second-run classics in their original language and format, is also home to several film festivals throughout the year.

Entrance to the Detroit Institute of Arts
MIRA OBERMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Detroit Film Theatre - Detroit

Detroit Film Theatre, originally founded in 1885 and opened its current location in 1927, is located within the Detroit Institute of Arts. As part of the museum, the theater features both contemporary and classical films. It also serves as a venue for special events including concerts, performances, and talks.

Exterior of Carolina Theatre
KAD Photo // Shutterstock

Carolina Theatre - Durham, NC

Carolina Theatre, which opened in 1926 and is now operated by a nonprofit called Carolina Theatre of Durham, aims to provide diverse perspectives and cultural experiences through film, live events, and educational programming. The theater showcases a wide variety of genre-centric film series.

Entrance to Beverly Cinema
Charley Gallay // Getty Images for Netflix

New Beverly Cinema - Los Angeles

A longtime benefactor of New Beverly Cinema, Quentin Tarantino came to own the historic theater in 2007. One of his first changes as a devotee of celluloid was to mandate any movie played in the theater must be 35 mm prints. Many of the films shown are from Tarantino’s private collection.

People seated in theater during screening
John Parra // Getty Images for 6 Underground

Silverspot Cinema - Miami

Silverspot Cinema has just about everything a theater lover could hope for. In addition to a vast array of film selections, from independent films to concerts to genre-specific series, the cinema boasts freshly-made food, craft beers, wine, and signature cocktails.

Exterior of Saint Anthony Main Theatre
Jeff Bukowski // Shutterstock

St. Anthony Main Theatre - Minneapolis

In 2022, St. Anthony Main Theatre rebranded as the MSP Film at The Main. The rebrand marked a shift away from mainstream blockbuster movies to independent and international films, as well as highlighting the work of local filmmakers.

Interior of Belcourt Theatre
Jason Davis // Getty Images

Belcourt Theatre - Nashville, TN

Opened in 1925, Belcourt Theatre is a nonprofit center that aims to give back and empower the Nashville community through film, showcasing many independent, international, documentary, and classical films. The Belcourt is affiliated with both the Art House Convergence and the League of Historic American Theatres.

Exterior of Prytania Theatre
Josh Brasted // Getty Images

Prytania Theatre - New Orleans

Prytania Theatre has been showing films for more than a century at its uptown location and is considered the longest continually operating theatre in the southern U.S. For a brief period during its history, the theater shifted from films to live performances, which proved unsuccessful.

Discussion panel at screening
Dominik Bindl // Getty Images

Metrograph - New York

Metrograph is an independent theater that aims to give film lovers a highly curated alternative to the blockbuster-centric movie experience. The theater focuses on premieres and screenings from rare archives, including digital 35 mm.

Entrance to Dundee Theatre at night
Steven Branscombe // Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

Dundee Theater - Omaha, NE

Dundee Theater is Omaha’s longest-running cinema. The theater is operated by Film Streams, a nonprofit organization that uses film and film discussion as cultural enrichment for the community. The theater offers film education opportunities, Q&As, and repertory film selections.

Manager placing titles on marquee
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

Byrd Theatre - Richmond, VA

The 1,200-seat Byrd Theatre is regarded as one of the nation’s Grand Movie Palaces and is both a state and national historic landmark. Largely unchanged from when it opened its doors in 1928, the interior is a marvel to behold, draped in red and gold, and featuring an 18-foot-tall chandelier laden with roughly 5,000 Czechoslovakian crystals.

Exterior of Balboa Theatre
Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Balboa Theatre - San Francisco

Balboa Theatre is one of the last independent movie theaters still operating in San Francisco, showcasing beloved and esteemed second-run films as well as new movies. Balboa Theatre is one of four cinemas owned and operated by CinemaSF dedicated to preserving the original spirit of these cultural centers.

Exterior view of Trustees Theatre
Cindy Ord // Getty Images for SCAD

Trustees Theater - Savannah, GA

The 1,100-seat theater first opened its doors in 1946 and was Savannah’s first air-conditioned theater. Today, it is a treasured multipurpose venue, accommodating runway shows, concerts, lectures, and live performances in addition to films. It also serves as the home to the SCAD Savannah Film Festival.

This story originally appeared on Giggster and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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