The Best Movie Theaters in America

Last week, in singing the praises of the cool original posters for the Alamo Drafthouse’s “Rolling Roadshow” series, your author offhandedly noted that the Alamo is “arguably the greatest movie theater in the country.” (And keep in mind, this proclamation was made before the anti-texting PSA heard ’round the world). Our editor, being a good editor and all, posed the reasonable question, “Well, is it?” And so we started asking around.

Come to find out, people are very passionate about their favorite movie theaters. After carefully surveying friends and colleagues from all over the country, we managed to get a list of the country’s best down to a manageable dozen houses, based either on the quality of presentation, the eclecticism of the programming, or both. These days, when too many movie theaters are, to paraphrase Ebert, value-added popcorn stands, these venues deserve kudos for still striving to make movie-going an experience. Check them out after the jump, and if we left off your favorite, we’re certain you’ll let us know in the comments (UPDATE: And that you did, and we listened–read part two of this list here.)

Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, Austin, TX

Founded in 1997 by Tim and Karrie League, the Alamo Drafthouse has become an institution in Austin, with a total of four locations in the city and several others spread throughout Texas (and one franchise in Virginia). But it all started at the original downtown location, a single screen which operated for ten years before moving to its current, two-screen location on 6th Street in 2007. As the chain’s home base, the downtown locations have hosted scores of special film festivals (including the Quentin Tarantino Film Festival, in which the filmmaker introduces his favorite movies, and Ain’t It Cool News “head geek” Harry Knowles’s annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon) and events; their schedule includes pictures from every conceivable genre, era, and country, whether you’ve heard of them or not. The venue also serves food and alcohol (with an emphasis on local beers and cuisine), often complimentary to the evening’s event — i.e., Chinese food with kung-fu movies, 40 ounce beers with (the original!) Shaft, free lemonade at the world premiere of Cabin Fever. And as we all found out last week, they absolutely, positively do not tolerate texting during the movie. (Big thanks to Austin refugees and Alamo fans Mario and Michelle Hernandez for filling me in on the Alamo experience.)