Chances are, even if you’ve never watched a movie at an Alamo Drafthouse theater, you know what will get you kicked out of one. The Austin-based chain, which currently has 15 theaters nationwide with plans to open nine new locations everywhere from San Francisco to Kalamazoo within the next two years, exploded into mass consciousness in 2011 when one of its prescreening No Talking PSAs went viral. The video, which has more than 3 million hits on YouTube, is a recording of a voicemail from a customer who was booted for texting during a movie. ”I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to text in your little crappy-ass theater,” she slurs. ”I’ve texted in all the other theaters in Austin, and no one ever gave a f —! Thanks for taking my money, a–hole!”
”You’re welcome,” replies management in the PSA. ”Thanks for not coming back to the Alamo, texter!”
”Within 36 hours it was on Anderson Cooper,” says Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League, 43. ”That was a milestone moment because it positioned us as a theater that is speaking out on the dismal state of going to the movies. And we’re not going to take it anymore.”
What makes the Alamo special is not just the zero-tolerance policy on texters and talkers. Or the polite and efficient waiters who bring you strangely high-quality booze and food during films. Or the terrifically curated old-school clips and trailers that run instead of commercials. Or that League values film so highly that he invested in a 70mm projector for one of his Austin locations solely to host a proper sneak-peek screening of The Master with director Paul Thomas Anderson in attendance.
League has managed to celebrate the act of going out to the movies as much as the movies themselves. When the Alamo held a special screening of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, the menu included eyeball soup and monkey brains. When Tim Burton world-premiered Frankenweenie there, the Alamo reserved an entire theater for dog owners and their pooches. And when League had the absurd idea of granting free admission to naked customers for a screening of Doris Wishman’s 1961 sexploitation flick, Nude on the Moon, he found himself waving in 120 nudists. ”That was pretty gross,” he admits with a laugh. ”Just a dumb, stupid stunt.”
”A lot of times,” says director and Austin resident Robert Rodriguez, ”if you go to a crappy theater you say, ‘Oh, my screen looks better at home, my experience is better at home, why am I going to the movie theater?’ Well, you go to the Alamo Drafthouse and you go, ‘Oh, okay, that’s why.’ I even enjoyed Transformers there. Before it started, we went out with my kids to the parking lot and they had this giant metal-eating machine dinosaur that chewed up a full-size car. That was better than the movie!”