1 ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE (Austin) One of America’s most fanatically unique moviegoing experiences. Specializes in oddball repertory programming events like the Lord of the Rings trilogy with Hobbit Feast (you eat whenever they eat!) and a traveling road show that, among other things, is unspooling Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the film’s climactic backdrop, Devil’s Tower. Movie-geek heaven.
2 KENNEDY SCHOOL (Portland, Ore.) Remember when it would rain during recess and your teacher would wrangle all the students inside for a crappy movie? Well, watching a flick in the auditorium of this converted elementary school is sorta like that, only with second-run movies, comfy sofas, and beer from the McMenamins chain, which owns several awesome Portland microbreweries/movie houses.
3 THE CASTRO (San Francisco) With a massive single screen, balcony, and sonorous Wurlitzer organ, this is the very definition of a ”movie palace.” Its rep programming is excellent (70mm and silent-film festivals, a series of double features pitting Bette Davis movies against Joan Crawford films), though last year’s firing of a popular programmer lit up message boards with disapproval.
4 THE SENATOR (Baltimore) A glitzy marqueed movie hall, the Senator fought for its survival before being showcased by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. That’s all well and fine. The real reason we love it: no children under 5 allowed. Ever. No joke. Call us miserable child haters, but admit it, you like this idea and wish more places did the same.
5 FILM FORUM (New York City) Revival houses are flying the way of the laserdisc, and yet this invaluable three-screen treasure trove is still flourishing 35 years after its start. It’s a throwback: The lines to get in feel like the one Woody Allen was stuck in at the beginning of Annie Hall, and the screens shimmer with themed classics (coming up: a four-week samuraifest) and impossible-to-find-elsewhere indies. NYC’s finest cinema.
6 CABLE CAR CINEMA (Providence) Though not as old or cushy as other theaters on this list, the railcar garage-turned-indie/foreign-film house has a fiercely loyal and diverse clientele drawn from local universities. With lived-in sofas and local musicians performing before showings, it exemplifies the college-town movie experience.
7 THE ARCLIGHT (Hollywood) It costs $14 to get into what locals consider movie nirvana. But at least you’ll notice the difference. The Cinerama Dome theater is sweet. So are the 14 other giant screens, reserved seating, gourmet munchies, ushers who shush talkers, AFI-supported retrospective series, and over-21 boozefests (perfect for a movie like Wedding Crashers). Even the stubs look like golden tickets.
8 GRAUMAN’S CHINESE THEATRE (Hollywood) L.A. deserves two theaters on this list because, in terms of exhibition at least, it’s the best city in the U.S. for filmgoing. Famous for its grand, flaring entryway studded with cemented movie-star hand- and footprints, the luxurious and recently refurbished Chinese is the only instantly recognizable cinema in the country.