What is the Best Movie Theater in Los Angeles?
May 8, 2009 4:11 PM   Subscribe

What is the Best Movie Theater in Los Angeles?

So I'm a misplaced Austinite. I cut my teeth on the Drafthouse, Rolling Roadshows and their expansions. I consider the audience, food, maintenance and extracurricular activities of the Drafthouse to be superb.

I also experienced the Finnkino Tennisplatsi near Kamppi in Helsinki. Quiet, Clean, all assigned seating and nobody talked because they were all Finnish.

Now I find myself in Los Angeles. Marina del Rey to be specific.

I wish to see a film, in this case, the new Star Trek Film.

I might consider seeing other films at a future juncture as well.

Rolling Roadshows, community stuff, new releases are all things that I am interested in.

Where should I go?

Priorities for me -
Assigned Seating - I like this, but it's not a breaker
Crowd - This is HUGE. No talking. Quiet crowd or a theater that discourages this type of jackassery
Maintenance - No underlighting of the bulbs, maintained sound system.
Concessions - Tasty would be nice, but not a breaker.

I don't mind paying 20 bucks a ticket or more if I need to.

I also don't mind 2 different theaters, one for new releases and a few others for quirky community stuff like the Angel City Drive In

So Angelenos, enlighten me as to where I can go, or if I should just wait for the DVD...
posted by Lord_Pall to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Arclight, Arclight, Arclight.
posted by scody at 4:17 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Arclight - Dome, or normal theater?
posted by Lord_Pall at 4:19 PM on May 8, 2009

Arclight Hollywood has assigned seating, exactly the type of theater you're looking for. The best theater for new releases in LA IMO.

I've heard good things about The Bridge in Culver City, which is closer to you and has Star Trek playing in IMAX.

New Beverly for repertory!
posted by hamsterdam at 4:19 PM on May 8, 2009

Well, the Mann Village Theatre (often known incorrectly as the "Fox" because it says that on the tower attached to building) is absolutely gorgeous- it has a great balcony, beautiful sound, huge screen and a beautiful interior- you'll recognize it from many things that have been filmed there. It is probably my favorite theatre in the world, and they're playing Star Trek tonight. However, it's general admission and it will largely be a UCLA crowd.

The Arclight in Hollywood has assigned seating, fancy captain chairs, and all your modern conveniences. The Nuart on Santa Monica is your place to go for obscure stuff and awesome midnight shows on Friday night (although they're more like 1am shows because the intro guy is the stereotypical "guy who works at an arthouse theatre" and Will. Not. Shut. Up. And. Play. the. Mother. Fucking. Movie.

The Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax is what the name describes, and I think it's the only one still operating in the US. Go see some Buster Keaton. Seriously. Live piano and everything.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:20 PM on May 8, 2009

Based on my memory of Los Angeles and the theatres listed as carrying the film, I think you'll be hard-pressed to come anywhere close to replicating the Drafthouse experience. In poking around though, I found the website for Arclight Hollywood which doesn't look too shabby.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:20 PM on May 8, 2009

On non-preview ... what everybody else says. Arclight.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:21 PM on May 8, 2009

The dome is really cool but the sides of the image are washed out because of the way the light bounces off the curved screen.

So for cool ambience but not 100% ideal picture: the dome. I love it.

More pristine picture, but normal ambiance: the inside theater.
posted by hamsterdam at 4:21 PM on May 8, 2009

Dome, or normal theater?

I prefer the regular theaters to the dome -- because it's so large, some of the seats in the dome are pretty so-so. Also, I think there's more legroom in the regular theaters. But I wouldn't NOT see a show at the dome if that was my only choice.
posted by scody at 4:22 PM on May 8, 2009

Arclight on Sunset. I would only see it on the dome. (Dome is not a good way to describe it--it's like a normal screen, but curved.) When I heard "dome", I was thinking like an IMAX dome, and this is not like this. Bonus for Arclight--people tend to be serious theater goers that don't yap. Plus, the food is great! (Love their apple sausage!).
posted by 6:1 at 4:27 PM on May 8, 2009

I came in to say Arclight (regular), but I see I'm not needed here. Bye.
posted by rokusan at 4:27 PM on May 8, 2009

Oh and I forgot the Aero in Santa Monica on Montana for their great revival double features. The theatre itself is nothing special, but I have seldom had more fun in my life than the night I went to a double feature of "Holy grail" and "The Life of brian."
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:28 PM on May 8, 2009

The Bridge at the Howard Hughes Center is really nice and one of my favorite local megaplex theaters. I don't know that it will fulfill #2 on your list - the crowd can get rowdy - but it will nicely suit all the rest of your requirements - and it's right in your backyard. http://bit.ly/zueMC
posted by lubricumlinguae at 4:29 PM on May 8, 2009

And, just to be a bit contrary, I really don't like going to the Arclight. The screens and everything are fine, but the whole experience... ick. The 19 level parking garage, the tacky setting, the guys in the little blue uniform shirts, it just feels more like going to the mall than the movies.

But that's just me. If assigned seating is your priority over uniqueness or atmosphere, you should go there.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:32 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I will chime in with Arclight, but add that while the Arclight in Hollywood is awesome, the Arclight in Sherman Oaks belongs to the devil. I have had so many horrible experiences there, from seating assignments being completely screwed up to having a concession worker throw a box at me because I dared to ask for one to put my popcorn, coke and candy in. He snarked "What, you really can't carry that?" and threw the box across the counter at me.

I am tired of fruitlessly complaining to the faux-concerned management there. So Arclight, yeah, but stay the hell away from the Valley.
posted by OolooKitty at 4:35 PM on May 8, 2009

Response by poster: DrJimmy - It isn't, just something I consider.

It's why I broke it down between split theaters..
posted by Lord_Pall at 4:38 PM on May 8, 2009

Response by poster: Oh yeah. Assigned seating isn't a huge deal if the crowd is good.

I found it tends to equate to better crowds, but that's not scientifically backed by any data other than a smattering of half-assed observations.
posted by Lord_Pall at 4:44 PM on May 8, 2009

You will not find a better theater experience in Los Angeles than the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, unless you have private theater viewing privileges from studio insiders. But the Arclight even beats most private theater viewings.

Sure, you can go to the Bridge, a lovely theater, if you want to risk waiting hours in line to enter a packed house full of teenagers and, if you're lucky, a whining one-year old. You can try Mann's - er, Grauman's Chinese for the same effect. If you're looking for wonderfully atmospheric theaters, unfortunately neither the Orpheum nor the Alex show movies any longer. And the El Capitan theater only shows Disney productions.

The Arclight is special. You do not have to wait in line. Do you know what that means here in Los Angeles? You do not have to wait upwards of two hours to rush for a good seat in line while some kids who have no concept of personal space continually bump into your butt while their parents stand obliviously by.

An usher will direct you to your seat. If you're lucky on opening night, a movie star or director will introduce you to the movie. Although I can't guarantee the crowd will be absolutely quiet, the crowd is typically full of people who actually know how to order tickets online, and don't mind shelling out a few extra bucks for the privilege of a great movie-going experience. People that go to see movies at the Arclight tend to take watching movies a little more seriously than your average movie-goer.

The theater is very clean. No leftover popcorn in your seat; bathrooms are actually cleaned regularly and well. You can have a cocktail there prior to the movie. Not to mention, it is right down the street from Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles (the hipster-friendly one) and the Baja Fresh I saw George Segal eating at.

This is all from my own personal experience. But there really isn't any other choice to seeing movies in Los Angeles.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:09 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just a heads up on the Arclight. I never actually made it into the theater, but the parking lot there is among the worst I ever went to in LA. Just driving in, parking, and driving out took me a half hour.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 5:10 PM on May 8, 2009

There is also The Landmark, which has assigned seating, non-rowdy patrons, fancy-schmancy concessions and even a wine bar. I've only seen a couple of movies here, but the seats were comfortable, the place was clean, and the other moviegoers seemed to be quiet and respectful. Also, it's much closer to Marina Del Rey than the Arclight is. (And they're showing the new Star Trek movie.)
posted by kitty teeth at 5:53 PM on May 8, 2009

Another vote for both the Arclight and the Landmark. They both fit your criteria. The Landmark will probably be less crowded than the Arclight and the Westside Pavilion has free parking.
posted by anansi at 6:13 PM on May 8, 2009

A few tricks for parking at the Arclight: first, just plan to arrive a little earlier than you think you'll reasonably need to. Figure out when you want to arrive, and add 10 or 15 mins. to it. Half the time you won't need the extra cushion, but the other half of the time you'll be very glad to have it.

When you leave, try to avoid heading straight out with a huge group of people all at once right after your movie lets out. Linger a bit... have a beverage at the bar, go over to Amoeba to have a look-around (warning: if you are a serious music fan and have never been to Amoeba Records before, set aside a few hours for your first visit; I often plan my music-buying and movie-going to coincide for this very reason), etc. This is often enough to allow you to catch a little bit of a lull between the times when movies are letting out, so that exiting only takes 5 mins. as opposed to 15.

Also, when you exit, you have a choice toward the bottom of the structure of leaving via Ivar or via DeLongpre. If it's a Friday or Saturday, the Ivar exit is often complicated by the existence of a nightclub across the street, in which case you can often save a few minutes by exiting on the DeLongpre side of the lot.
posted by scody at 6:24 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Of course, if you don't have time to linger, the alternative method is to make a beeline for the exit right as the movie ends, so that you can be toward the head of the pack when you get out of the theater to get your parking stub validated and paid, at which point you can hustle into the parking structure and be on your way while everyone else is still strolling out.)
posted by scody at 6:28 PM on May 8, 2009

Another vote for the Arclight-- although I'll go to either location, and have yet to have a crap experience at Sherman Oaks. The Bridge tends rowdier, even when there's only like ten people in your show.

(I'm going to the Bridge tonight at 12:45am for my third run at Trek, first in IMAX. I completely fear what sort of experience I'm going to have-- but my first Trek showing this week was at Paramount, so I'm spoiled already. If you get access to crew screenings in LA, and they're at Paramount, that screening room is friggin' incredible.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:44 PM on May 8, 2009

L.A. County Museum of Art has a film program which plays a very wide variety of vintage and foreign films, usually friday and saturday nights. Right now, for example, they are in the middle of a Nagisa Oshima retrospective.

UCLA Film & TV Archives are the premier "scholarly" programming venue. They run annual festivals of new films from Taiwan, China and Iran, as well as a dazzling number of other curated series and programs. They are also one of the best places to see experimental films in Los Angeles.

REDCAT/CalArts theatre in downtown L.A. is an important venue for the newest and most cutting edge films. The programming reflects CalArts' status as a leading art school and critical studies program.

The American Cinemateque at the Egyptian and Aero Theaters programs a diverse range of contemporary, vintage and foreign films. Films at the Aero tend to be a bit more family-friendly, also the Aero often shows films in pre-release with filmmakers attending for a Q & A.

In the last year or so, the Silent Movie Theater has become another wonderful eclectic venue showing great classics as well as strange, forgotten, and bizarre films - their programming has a definite non-mainstream attitude.

The Nuart theater has been described as the Landmark theater chain's experimental test venue - the films change every week, and based on attendance the Landmark company decides if and how to distribute them to other theaters. Which means you can see things at the Nuart that don't necessarily move to other theaters.

Nthing previous recommendations for the Fox Village - the programming is strictly mainstream, but the room is the best example of the classic wonderful movie palace in Los Angeles. That would be a great place to see Star Trek.

Two more great rooms should be mentioned: the Vista in SilverLake is perhaps the best small vintage theater in town, restored to its full 1920s glory and immeasurably improved by removing every other row of seats - first class legroom! Finally, the Motion Picture Academy's Samuel Goldwyn theater in Beverly Hills is as good as it gets, literally, it is the industry's gold standard of perfect projection and perfect sound. They have public screenings, usually of the classics, from time to time. Expect mint-condition prints and flawless presentation.

P.S. The Naz 8 in Artesia is the local Bollywood multiplex.
posted by conrad53 at 9:26 PM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Academy's Goldwyn Theater on Wilshire in Beverly Hills is a fine place to see a movie. If you can find an AMPAS member (and there are more than you think), there are members-only weekly (or bi-weekly - I forget) pre-release or newly-released film screenings (card-carrying members can bring a guest for free).

Huge screen, dynamic sound, appreciative and quiet 'pro' audiences (who actually applaud during the closing credits), comfortable seating, a curtain over the screen that dramatically opens before the film unreels, appropriate pre-show music, and NO CONCESSIONS! Oh, and two big Oscar statues on either side of the screen. And you might see a celeb or two.

The theater is also open to the public on occasion for special screenings. Keep an eye out.

The Emmy folks have a great theater too, in N. Hollywood.
posted by DandyRandy at 9:41 PM on May 8, 2009

Gosh, I guess I'm the only one here that likes The Grove. The parking is really easy, unlike the Arclight. I go to a matinee for two thirds of the price, a new release like ST will be on the big screen with great new seats, great sound system, ticket buying is kiosk electronic. I don't buy the concessions, so I have no idea about that, but it's a tony area so.... A crowd, but a well behaved crowd. I see all my Tim Burton and stuff there. For me, IMAX screens and curved screens detract from rather than enhance the dream.

The Weekly or La Times regularly run a ton of movie listings, so I check that for the type of film, there are so many venues. The Silent movie theater with the Wurlitzer is really fun to do.
posted by effluvia at 9:46 PM on May 8, 2009

For the most part, movie audiences in LA tend to be better than other places I've lived (I've lived a LOT of places, 12 states and 4 countries) and projection and sound tend to be better as well but my preference is Arclight Hollywood, then Landmark, and the El Capitan for Disney/Studio Ghibli productions (all three have assigned seating and Arclight and Landmark use real butter). Went to opening night of a harry potter at Mann's Chinese and was appalled at the behaviour of the crowd, the crappy consession, and the seating. The Bridge is ok, no assigned seating and there are a LOT of teenagers, they have liquor tho which makes the crappy popcorn and flat soda somewhat more bearable.
posted by legotech at 10:10 PM on May 8, 2009

The only mainstream Usain audience I've encountered in recent years that was well-behaved was for The Incredibles at Brattleboro VT's Kipling. I've learned to suck it up and go to a matinee when I want to see a first-run blockbuster.

I'm a native Angelena and have observed people behaving rudely at the revival and repertory places.

See Star Trek at whichever single screen it's playing. The ads in the LA times list them as of last October.
posted by brujita at 11:33 PM on May 8, 2009

I just saw Trek at the bridge in IMAX Thursday night, and it was epic. The crowd was super rowdy, but It was more geek-rowdy than the normal stupid teen rowdy that I have come to know the bridge for.

I have only seen one film at the arclight hollywood, and it was fine. Crowd was good and technicals were good, but I only have the one screening there. Been to the Archlight SO a number of times and never had an issue.

Personally, from the westside, the normal everyday theaters I like the best are the AMC at the promenade, and the century city AMC.

To see big movies, I normally hit up archlight SO ( near me), or the bridge ( but only the directors halls, or IMAX. The crowds aren't worth it for the normal theaters, imho).
posted by brent_h at 12:39 AM on May 9, 2009

Though it's a haul I implore you to take in a show at the Vista. Great leg room, great sound, very good sightlines.
posted by mzurer at 8:01 AM on May 9, 2009

And the matinee price used to be a steal, like $3.50, though I don't know if that is still the case.
posted by mzurer at 8:02 AM on May 9, 2009

Adding a second vote for the Vista... it's an impeccably restored theater and I love going there, as there's usually a fun, non-annoying crowd, good popcorn and, as mentioned, massively great leg room.

I have, however, on occasion, not been thrilled with the sound.
posted by OolooKitty at 7:11 PM on May 9, 2009

Another vote for the arclight. When I lived in MDR I used to go to The Bridge for my everyday movie viewing, and it was fine. I found the Santa Monica promenade theaters much more noisy and full of annoying teenagers. Some fo the Westwood theaters are fun to go to for the atmosphere on opening nights, but I find that technical standards are a bit low.
posted by Joh at 8:46 PM on May 9, 2009

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