Will I still be able to see films on film if I move to the country?
May 15, 2010 4:59 PM   Subscribe

How hard is it to see a movie in a movie theater in rural areas? Is the experience significantly different from seeing a movie in a theater in a city?

Are they accessible, or do you have to drive an hour to get to them? Are they big chain multiplexes out near the Walmart by the highway with big plush seats and a full concessions counter, or is there a locally-owned single-screen house somewhere in the town an hour away with ratty carpeting and a weird old man in a paper hat putting butter on your popcorn?

Do the theaters play new releases? Second-run stuff? Old movies? A mix? Do lots of people go to them, or does everyone just use Netflix out there these days?

I'm curious because I've been working in movie theaters in Chicago for the last few years but only have a vague idea of what it's like to see a movie in a less metropolitan place. Seeing and projecting films in theaters has become a big part of my life, and I wonder about how it might be different if I moved away from the city (possibly - in my daydreams - to start my own solar-powered repertory cinema with a sustainable popcorn farm on the roof).

I'm particularly curious about the United States and Canada and maybe Mexico because I probably won't be moving anywhere else, but experiences from other places would be interesting and instructive as well.
posted by bubukaba to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd guess you can do a google map of theatres, but pretty much every place big enough for a mall has a theatre.
posted by k8t at 5:10 PM on May 15, 2010

In rural Quebec, there's usually a 4-room theater in the bigger country towns. They choose the new releases that will have the highest demand for their region / demographics.

I don't know if it's still the same, but the last time I visited Saltspring Island, in BC, the movie theater had wooden benches and only showed one movie a week. This was about 5 years ago.
posted by OLechat at 5:11 PM on May 15, 2010

My SO used to live in Broadus, Montana. They used to show year-old movies on the weekends in a space crammed with old couches and barcaloungers. In small towns you'll see the most popular fare. I drive an hour to a smallish city to see anything remotely arty.
posted by DarkForest at 5:14 PM on May 15, 2010

This is the most rural cinema I've ever been to... Tell City (IN) Twin Cinema. Represent! :) County population in July 2008: 7,526
posted by meindee at 5:14 PM on May 15, 2010

The one-movie-a-week thing probably holds true in any rural place lucky enough to have a one-screen theater (because, I think, theaters pay for use of the film for a period of time rather than a number of showings). My favorite tiny theater is probably the Indian Lake Theater in upstate NY, where the owners are probably doing something along the lines of what you're interested in, minus the popcorn farm (but if only!).
posted by soviet sleepover at 5:18 PM on May 15, 2010

In the rural west where I grew up (in the 80s and early 90s), we had one theater in our town with a population 9,860. It was an old art deco theater that "opened its doors on June 27, 1940 premiering the film "Ghost Breakers" starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard", they had one screen and showed a single film - usually something that had been in larger town theaters several weeks ago.

They gave you a ticket from a roll, like you might get at a high school event - and sold concessions that were not more expensive than popcorn or soda would be elsewhere.

Since then, the theater has new owners and has been fixed up a bit - and they've added two screens so they now show three films with reclining seats and digital sound, etc. They now show more current films, for example currently playing are Robin Hood, Iron Man 2 and Nightmare on Elm Street.

Tickets are $8 for an Adult, $6 for youth, senior or matinee. They have one show a day on weekdays and three on weekends.
posted by jardinier at 5:20 PM on May 15, 2010

It's not the ratty carpets or weird old men that ruin theaters, it the damn places that don't put the right size bulbs in the projectors. And netflix (and DVD and VCRs) don't hurt rural theaters any more than they do (did) hurt urban theaters; the damage was done by cable, and it was done long before you or your parents heard of cable if you live in the city.

"Rural areas" aren't just one big monolith, probably they are even less so than "American cities'. There are places where it's a two hour plus drive to the grocery store, other places, or some the drive is shorter, but it's kind of a part of being 'rural' that there won't be a whole lot of stores in walking distance. Most people that live in what you would call rural areas, actually live in fairly large towns though, and almost every town that has a Walmart that I know of also has a theater of some sort, not so many seats, but sometimes more than one screen. They get the real big movies during there first release, (or the next town over does), and usually, but not always, during the first week. (The first week receipts mean a lot of publicity to the studio, and bumpkin money counts too.)

I don't know, but I'd think that rural area theaters are doing better (though not as good as the 50s say) because they have fewer competing evening activities.
posted by Some1 at 5:20 PM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

How rural are we talking about? The majority of smaller towns are just not going to have a theater at all, and those that do are usually owned by companies that may have a handful of local theaters, where local may mean the span of a few counties. In my experience theaters tend to cluster in the areas where there are two or more larger towns in the same area, and they tend to only get a token selection of first-run films (although not necessarily on opening day), and possibly a couple movies that are a month or two old that are steady draws in the PG/PG-13 range.

Your best bet is probably to move to a smaller city that is large enough to support chains that have a number of top 10 films and open a smaller arthouse/second run theater in a more hip neighborhood / urban area, in my opinion. And by best bet, I mean "barely stay afloat" and not "become a millionaire."
posted by mikeh at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2010

I suppose it depends on the geography. I think for a lot of small towns in Southern Ontario are within an hour drive of a multiplex near a Walmart. I think the only places you'll find active single screen cinemas are college towns.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:23 PM on May 15, 2010

One chain that would fit the "smaller towns" demographic would be Fridley Theaters, who have screens in Iowa and Nebraska. I think they're fairly typical in their market; they have theaters that typically show 3-5 films at a time (although they have some locations near urban centers that are larger) and stick to bestsellers with a nod to a token family fare option. Scarily, the current family film appears to be "Furry Vengeance" starring Brendan Fraser. Just think, if you'd already seen Iron Man 2 and the remake of Friday the 13th, that would be your only other option in many towns.
posted by mikeh at 5:27 PM on May 15, 2010

The answer to all your questions is "yes." Somewhere in rural areas, there is a theater providing the experiences you're describing. As others have said, it just depends on the location. There is no homogenous "out there" beyond the city.
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:28 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, when I was in San Cristobal de Casas, in Chiapas, a small industry had sprung up around the progressive young travelers who'd come to get involved with (or oogle) the Zapatista movement. There were several little cafe theaters around town showing pirated movies projected on a wall in a big room, with the audience sitting in couches and folding chairs. Every week you'd find new flyers taped to phone poles listing the movies playing for the next week or so.

If my memory serves me right, I saw Thank You For Smoking in Marfa, Tx, in a similar setting.
posted by soviet sleepover at 5:28 PM on May 15, 2010

Rural can be pretty vague. I lived in a rural area in Texas......I'm talking like one stoplight in the county. And no way would they have any sort of movie theater. But in a bigger town (of like 80,000 to 100,000) maybe 45 minutes away, then yes, they'd have a chain theater. Though certainly not plush as bigger cities. So at least in Texas in the less populated areas, there will be a town of 80,000 or so like I said, and all the smaller rural areas surrounding that town will go there for all their groceries, restaurants, shopping etc.
posted by texas_blissful at 5:30 PM on May 15, 2010

I live in a city of 15,000 in western Canada. We have a theater that shows 3 separate films, sometimes alternating in a kids' movie. Only films that are top run, non-alternative of any sort make it, and don't last long. The theaters are small, small screen, barely sloped floors. I know that financially the theater barely stays afloat and they make all their profit from concession. I used to love to go to the movies, and now it takes over an hour each way to drive in to anything that I consider reasonable. In the end, I rarely go to my local theater at all, or make the trek in to the city (because of childcare considerations it would mean being gone from home 3 hrs. plus movie length) and so I mostly have switched over to watching DVDs ordered via the net.
posted by kch at 5:31 PM on May 15, 2010

(To clarify, I know that there isn't actually a monolithic rural "out there" - but that's sort of how I think of it in my head because I have so little experience with life outside of cities. Part of my aim in asking this question is to demystify how I think of rural places).
posted by bubukaba at 5:34 PM on May 15, 2010

I lived in an 8,000 person college town in Ohio a couple years ago, and we had a one-screen theater. Movies were $3, and there was one movie per week, which had usually been out for several weeks by the time it got to us. Concessions were similarly cheap. I just looked the theater up online, and tickets are now $4 matinees/ $5 evenings with one night a week $3.

You could, if you had a car, drive about 15-20 minutes to the nearest mall to go to a normal multiplex with first-run movies. Movies there were less expensive than I'm accustomed to in CA, but more normally priced - maybe $6 matinees and $8 full price tickets in around 2006.

I miss cheap movies.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:35 PM on May 15, 2010

If you live in a rural area, you will have to go somewhere else to see a movie, like the closest mid-sized town. The smallest town I've seen a movie in had 20,000 people, but was the biggest town for about 40 miles around, and it was 4-screen thing showing first-run major films. Pretty much the same as any mid-quality movie theater. It's not just about being rural, either. My friends live on an island off Texas that has about 3500 permanent residents and way more seasonal ones, and they have to go to the big city on the mainland to see a movie.

Now, whether they show the films on film or digital is something I have no idea about.
posted by ishotjr at 5:41 PM on May 15, 2010

I live in an area that's rural as compared to our last home, which was in the suburban Atlanta sprawl.

The one theater in town is on the older-side, but it always seems to be playing first-run movies. Ditto for the drive-in (!) up the road, which not only shows first-run stuff, but usually stacks them into a double feature. My only gripe is that the theater seats are also a bit old, and I got spoiled by the big, high-backed stadium seating found in the more recently-built places. If I really want to see stuff in IMAX, I can head up the road to Nashville. As soon as they empty the place out of mud and debris, anyway.
posted by jquinby at 5:43 PM on May 15, 2010

My two main experiences with movie theaters in small towns are the following:

(1) My grandparents have a cottage in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michicago, and my family would often spend time there in the summers. For many years, you had two options for seeing movies: you could either drive 15 minutes to the nearest town (pop. 1500), which showed second-run films on its one screen during the summers (and shut down entirely during the winters), or you could drive over an hour to a town of about 15,000 people and watch first-run movies at the fairly up-to-date mall multiplex there. There's also a drive-in about half an hour away. No art-house stuff to speak of. In recent years, things have gotten better; the local theater was renovated and now shows movies year-round, and what looks like a pretty good film festival has been started in the larger town an hour away. But there's nothing like the Music Box or even the Landmark Century Center.

(2) For the past two years, I've lived in Bloomington, IN, a college town of approximately 70,000. (Obviously this only qualifies as rural in the relative sense, but you don't have to go far from here to get to farmland or forest.) We have two multiplexes in town, owned by the same chain (Kerasotes). One is noticeably shabbier than the other, but neither one has ratty carpeting. Since this is a college town, there's also a film society that plays more arty fare on the weekends; they use various spaces owned by the University, the City, and local businesses, and don't have a dedicated screen of their own. There's also outdoor projections of old movies in the public parks in the summer, a second-run theatre in the University's student union building, and a drive-in 10 minutes south of town.

My impression is that any town with a population of about 10k-15k can support a generic chain multiplex of some sort, though the number of screens may be small. College towns will be more likely to have some kind of art-house fare available somewhere, though the selection will be perforce much more limited than Chicago's. If you moved to a spot the country within 50 miles of a midwestern college town, you could probably balance your desire to be out of the city with your desire to see projected movies quite nicely.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:48 PM on May 15, 2010

Having just spent a week in rural Iowa and Nebraska about the only towns I saw that had movie theaters were the county seats. Most seemed to have one theater "on the square" or thereabouts, with 1-4 screens/theater. They were showing the movies with the broadest appeal (Date Night, Back-Up Plan, Iron Man 2).

While I realize it is a daydream, the idea of having a green roof to grow popcorn doesn't make much economic sense. The amount of cheap land on which to grow corn near a rural town is near infinite compared to the expensive retrofitting of an old building roof to hold a few hundred square feet of crops.
posted by plastic_animals at 5:58 PM on May 15, 2010

I live in a small village in Western NY. (It comes equipped with a SUNY, which is where I teach.) There's a theatre with three screens, which shows mainstream fare. (I haven't tried recently, but last time I checked, it didn't take credit cards.) However, thanks to the presence of Eastman Kodak--or what's left of it, anyway--there are lots of good multiplexes in the area that frequently screen indies, plus the art house Little Theatre and the Eastman House itself.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:08 PM on May 15, 2010

I live in Banff, Alberta a town of 8,700 which is fortunate enough to have a tiny four screen cinema (street view) even though it's in a national park. People come from Lake Louise, and Canmore (both 30 minutes away) and even Field BC (an hour's drive through a mountain pass in a different province) just to see a movie. The nearest alternative is Calgary, about 90 minutes from Banff.

Here's how it differs from when I lived in a big city like Montreal:

-The largest screen is probably 30 feet wide and seats maybe 300. There's no rumble seats, no 3D, no THX.
-There's usually about 5 different movies playing on any given week, they tend to come through for a short time, three weeks for a blockbuster, often just a week or two for most movies. One movie in the lineup will always be a kid movie for the matinee.
-Oscar contenders don't make it unless they are a blockbuster, sometimes people will grumble enough when an anticipated movie doesn't come through town (Bruno would be a recent example) that they'll run it by popular demand a month or two later, but only for a short week.
-The rooms are small enough that they turn off the ventilation during the movie to keep it quiet and it can get near freezing as a result in the winter time.
-Sometimes you have to get up, go into the lobby and find the kid who's running the show and tell him he's got the wrong lens/aspect/whatever for your screen.
-We've had to all get up and change screens before because the canister was in the wrong room, lots of jockeying for good seats as a result.
-When you go to a movie it's like an episode of the Simpsons in that you know everyone in the theatre, and the girl behind the booth, and the kid behind the concession.
-We have a repertory night on the first Monday of the month from Sept-April, and then it's even more like a Simpson's episode, esp. with the intro of the featured local charity and door prizes.
-We have a locals card which for the cost of two movies gives you 5 free popcorns, 5 drink/popcorn upgrades, and saves you $2 a movie, over the course a year. There's a locals appreciation screening once a year.
-Our Tuesday night deal is a free drink and popcorn with the purchase of a movie ticket, and what I've noticed is that you better like Pepsi 'cause they'll run out of root beer, orange and Mountain Dew pretty fast and they don't put more.
-When the movie is done you get up and walk to a door at the front of the cinema that leads out of the building.

An example of a big deal here: When the first Sex & the City movie was coming out some ladies in town organized an event at the steak house next door before the premier with drinks and appetizers, I happened to walk by just as they were getting in line for tickets, it sold out as every woman in town between the age of 14 and 45 was in that lineup, and all gussied up wearing cocktail dresses, heels and makeup, which is crazy considering the usual mountain casual outfits you see here. Guys called their friends and came out just to see the lineup.

My friend lived in Haileybury Ontario where there were two cinemas in town, both across the street from the other and both with just one screen. Movies would come through town for one week, and if you didn't like one movie you crossed the street to see the other one.
posted by furtive at 6:09 PM on May 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

A high school teacher of mine grew up in Fort Kent, Maine There may have been two screens, but I don't accurately recall if she said they had one or two. The theater only operated on Friday and Saturday nights and had maybe two shows each night.

And it's hard to be more rural than Fort Kent.
posted by zizzle at 6:12 PM on May 15, 2010

Yes, absolutely. When I lived in Bodega Bay, Ca, we used to drive out to a little town called Monte Rio where they have a mom n pop movie theater which looks like an airport hangar. It's a single screen with fairly comfy chairs. They play second run movies (usually) and instead of previews, they project a slideshow of pictures from recent vacations.

They sell really tasty hot dogs too.
posted by special-k at 6:13 PM on May 15, 2010

My home town (pop 3500, but largest town for about 200 miles in all directions) started with a single screen and later added a screen. Movies changed once a week or so. Popular movies sometimes carried over for a second or even third week, which sucked, because once you'd seen "the movie" there weren't a whole lot of other entertainment options.

I don't think a rep theatre would be much of a draw in a rural area - folks want to see the same movies in the country as they do everywhere else - the next Iron Man, the next comedy, the next blockbuster. If that's not what you're offering, they'll just stay home and watch cable or rent a DVD. Our local theatre started a foreign film showcase that screened one night a week for a few weeks a year. It was pretty sparsely attended. And that was in the days before digital cable, NetFlix, Hulu, etc. Rep theatres appeal to a niche and to fill your niche you need to draw from a larger, not a smaller, population.
posted by zanni at 6:14 PM on May 15, 2010

Oh and the concession stand only takes cash, there's an ATM in the convenience store across the street.
posted by furtive at 6:15 PM on May 15, 2010

I've been living in the rural West for the last 20 years and have had so many charming small-town theater experiences. Our town used to have a small, single screen theater in the basement of a former church. The concessions were always real food--a crock pot of hot apple cider, some baked goods, real popcorn, etc., or you could bring food from home. Lots of people would bring sandwiches from home and the room would smell so delicious with everyone unwrapping their dinner as the previews played. I suppose it's true that you have to make your money on concessions, because it eventually went out of business.

We also have a perfectly preserved single-screen theater from the 1930s on our Main Street. I remember when Titanic came out, everyone trudged through feet and feet of snow to go see it on the first night, and then about 15 minutes from the end, the film broke! They just told us to come back the next night to see the end--no tickets or anything, just the honor system. Everyone was so cheerful heading back out into the snow. It really made me love my town.

And then way back when, we lived in a town of about 2,000, and used to trade firewood for movie tickets at the one theater in town. It was only open one night a week and was always packed, and had a very festive atmosphere. Tickets were just off a roll, money was tracked with a cash box, movies were second run. It was wonderful.

All of these theaters were so vibrant--you'd see all your neighbors and friends in the lobby and talk to everyone sitting in front of and behind you while you waited for the movie to start. Whenever I go to a movie in a fancy multiplex with stadium seating and those big Barcalounger-type chairs and everyone walking through a big tiled lobby with their expensive snacks and not making eye contact with anyone else, I feel sad. We do have a multiplex in town now, but you have to get in the car to go there. I'm very glad to still have the one on Main Street.
posted by HotToddy at 6:39 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went to college in a small town in western NY (further west than thomas j wise), and we had a movie theater in town that played some of the new stuff. The whole area was pretty rural aside from my little college town. The theater wasn't all that glamorous - this was in 2000-2004. Maybe it's nicer by now. We called it the stickyplex. But it was fine for going to see a movie, and way cheaper than seeing movies in a big city. If we wanted a larger movie theater or more movie options, there were several other ones in various directions within 30-45 minutes.

If you want to get an idea of where the movie theaters are in a particular state, it's kind of interesting to go to Google maps and type in "movie theaters [state]" and look at all the red dots that come up. I just did it for Pennsylvania. There are little clusters in and around the more populous areas of the state, and generally it looks like there isn't a small town in the state - and there are plenty of little rural areas in Pennsylvania - that is more than 30 miles from a movie theater of some kind.

You'll have to get pretty darn remote before you find yourself that far away from a modern movie theater in the US. Large swaths of some midwestern/mountain states seem to be lacking movie theaters of any kind. Really, most places where most people live that aren't quite as metropolitan as Chicago are still not all that undeveloped.
posted by wondermouse at 6:39 PM on May 15, 2010

Yeah, this is going to vary a ton from little town to little town. I grew up in rural Ontario. There was one theatre in the town about 30 minutes away with two screens. If I wanted to drive for an hour, there was a theatre with 8 screens. Both theatres played new releases, usually the two biggest money-makers of the moment. The screens were small but not comical; about the same size as any old non-multiplex theatre in the city has.

Independence Day came out in the summer after I graduated high school and I remember that it didn't open until July 6th, despite all the "Coming July 4th" advertising, because the theatre only changed films on Fridays. Aside from that, I don't remember ever not being able to see something I wanted to see.

Buried in there is probably the biggest hidden effect they had on me: I didn't see any small or independent films growing up. The small town theatre issue, combined with the fact that the Internet was still a young and unknown beast, meant that most films that got only limited releases slipped entirely below my radar. I still haven't seen Barton Fink. For that matter, I didn't watch my first foreign language film until I was in college.
posted by 256 at 6:51 PM on May 15, 2010

And on preview, almost everything in furtive's comment also applies to my own experience.

One other thing I forgot to mention: there was also a one-screen drive in theatre that operated in the summer. Every show was a double feature, usually one new release and one totally random film between 2 and 50 years old. They didn't have the radio broadcast technology, so every parking spot had a little wired speaker that you hung on the window of the car. About half the speakers were broken or just poor quality, so everyone who didn't come often enough to have a favorite spot picked out spent the first fifteen minutes of the first movie driving around in a mini-demolition-derby trying to find a decent speaker.

It was frigging awesome.
posted by 256 at 6:58 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

For an interesting outside-North-America example, I recommend the documentary Reel Paradise, about a man who moves with his family to Fiji to open a one-screen theater there.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:16 PM on May 15, 2010

I'm trying to figure out what sort of region you're asking about. You mention 'rural,' 'small town,' and 'suburban.' Are you really just thinking of places that are so far away from civilization that it would be a long drive to get to a town? The sort of rural area that has more farms than people? I live in a suburb of Philadelphia. It takes maybe an hour (mostly because of traffic) to get into the city. I consider the area I live in a small town and a suburb of a city. As I said, I'm in PA, and I'm pretty well traveled through areas of PA and NY (I have friends and family in many areas between the two states). Most small towns that I have any experience with in both states are so built up that, well, that's why I'm confused about the question. I don't know if you mean more rural areas.. like the mid-west or the south (which I'm not at all familiar with). In all the PA and NY small towns that I have experience with, as I said, the areas are so built up. I live in an area that has farmland (and used to have a lot more), but now it's just shopping center after shopping center. There are four or five BIG multiplexes within a ten mile radius. Only one of the multiplexes didn't exist within the last, say fifteen years. All of the other theaters have been around since I was a kid, at least. They mostly play new releases. There are two or three artsy theaters in downtown areas within that radius, too. They play first-run artsy movies (independents and foreign films, etc.), and they show some old movies on the weekend (two or three screen theaters where the movies change by the week, but there's no ratty carpeting or weird old men). I can think of one large theater a little farther away that does second-run stuff. Since the theaters keep expanding, it seems as if loads of people go to the movies. The only difference I see between small town and big city theaters is that the small town artsy theaters may have a shorter run of a particular movie than a similar sort of theater in a city might have. Basically, if you want to see a new movie in this sort of theater, you have to go the week it's being shown because it may not be there three or four weeks.

As far as the areas I'm familiar with but don't live in: they all have big theaters that play new stuff and they all seem to have small artsy theaters, as well. The most rural area I'm familiar with is where one of my aunts live in upstate PA, and it seems she spends all week going to the movies. I guess I'm just wondering if the areas I'm thinking of are not the areas that you're asking about...? Are they not rural enough?
posted by Mael Oui at 7:41 PM on May 15, 2010

The Milbridge Theater (Milbridge Me) circa 1980 was awesome! The owner had been a professional projectionist in NJ and ran away to Maine for the good life. It was cheap, it was tiny (one screen) and EVERYONE went there. The owner knew his stuff and upgraded it so it was one of the few moviehouses in Maine where Snow White was shown during its re-release.
I remember everyone cheering Indy as he galloped off on his white horse in "Raiders".
posted by pentagoet at 7:43 PM on May 15, 2010

Growing up, my small town had a theatre that had one screen and a balcony. However, bats lived in it and sitting in the balcony meant you sometimes got buzzed. The movies they showed were about one to three months behind when "big cities" would get them, and they only had showings four nights out of the week (maybe matinees on Saturday and Sunday if it was a Disney cartoon or something).

Also, every time, and I mean every time I saw a movie played there, the film broke, or the audio cut out, or some other significant problem came up that meant you either missed several minutes of the movie or had to wait a few while they did repairs.

However, considering you had to drive over 100 miles to get to the next nearest theatre, I guess it was better than nothing.
posted by Menthol at 7:53 PM on May 15, 2010

Cullman Alabama population 15,000 has a 10-plex. The county has 80,000 so maybe that's what fills all those seats. Today they showed Letters to Juliette and Robin Hood, which were just released today everywhere else too, so Cullman is not a week behind like other towns.
posted by CathyG at 8:22 PM on May 15, 2010

I live in a town of 800, which has no theater. I can drive 10 minutes and see a first-run movie in a single-screen theater in a nearby town. The theater is small and dusty, albeit charming.

Or I can drive 30 miles to the multiplex in the next, larger town over. It has 10 screens, but only the first 2 are worth a damn. The other 8 are pretty tiny, and the print is crappy by then, and the theater is pretty small, only seating about 50.

The multiplex shows the kinds of movies you'd expect. Heavily weighted towards kids and blockbusters. The nearest art house movies are in The Big City, Seattle, which is about 90 minutes away.

On the up side, it's only $10 for an adult ticket during prime time hours. $8 if you see your movie before 5.

On the down side, the selection is somewhat limited. I only get the yen to see something in the theater about once a year. Often I'll wait until I can get to Seattle and watch something at the Cinerama. If you're going to do it, do it right!
posted by ErikaB at 8:46 PM on May 15, 2010

I grew up in a tiny town along the Kansas/Nebraska border with a population of 140. Of course, my town didn't have a movie theater (or even a pool). The county seats in my county and the surrounding ones did, however. When I was in high school the thing to do was go to a movie on Saturday night (there were two screens but only one showtime, 7:30) then go "cruising".

Contrary to a lot of areas, the video business actually saved those local theaters. They were closed for a while in the mid 80s, but then more people started getting VCR's. The owners set up video rental in the lobby, and also reopened the big screens. The movies would play about a month or so after opening nationwide, but still before they came out on video. Since I haven't lived there in a while, I can't say how well they are doing now in the age of Netflix.
posted by weathergal at 8:48 PM on May 15, 2010

I'll tell you what's huge out here: those Red Box DVD dispensing units. And Netflix, I assume.

I've seen lines of people 6 deep waiting to get a DVD from the Red Box machine at the Walgreens in the next town over.
posted by ErikaB at 8:48 PM on May 15, 2010

San Joaquin Valley, California, here, population about 40,000, surrounded by miles of vinyards and almond orchards. Years ago, there were 2 "movie houses" and a drive-in theater, but they've all closed. One of the sit-down theaters kept going for several years by showing Mexican films (in Spanish), which were really fun to watch. (The population is 60% Hispanic) But it eventually turned off the lights, only to try to restart with first-run features some nights and concerts by local bands others. That didn't last long. To see a movie now, one has to go to other towns thirty to fifty miles away, or rely on Netflix
posted by path at 9:09 PM on May 15, 2010

There is a town in Ontario, maybe three hours northeast of Toronto, called Kinmount (population 500) which sports the remarkable Highland Cinemas: the cinema has been the subject of a number of magazine articles.

I have seen a movie or two there and the experience is -- and I do not employ this much-misused word lightly -- unique. The owner has built a five-screen theatre in the woods a little ways north of town. The approach is merely a large marquee listing movies and showtimes next to a dirt road off the highway, leading into the woods. The parking area turns out to be a number of small clearings, each of which holds ten or twenty cars.

The box office is in a tiny lobby which gives on to a corridor leading to the auditoriums, ranging from 80 to ~300 seats (so yes, the theatre could accomodate the entire town population with room left over). There is a single snack bar: ticket prices and snack prices are maybe forty percent lower than they would be in a big city. Lining the corridors is the movie museum, which must be seen to be understood.

The owner runs it seasonally -- he has just opened for the summer and as of right now is showing three movies, one showing per day each. By high summer he will have all five screens going with multiple showings and matinees. After Labour Day he begins to reduce the screenings and by mid-October it is shut down again for the winter.

It is fucking brilliant. Unlike most theatres, he can adjust the number of screenings by conditions (a year ago Wendy BD and I saw Star Trek there -- one show a day, but he would have a matinee if it were raining). It is in the middle of cottage country so his customer base is people who, if they want to watch a movie, can either throw Lethal Weapon II into the cottage's VHS for the fifth time or go see a newly-released summer movie. He has essentally zero competition: the nearest movie theatres are a drive-in and a four-screen place in Lindsay, over an hour south and a single-screen place in Haliburton, about the same distance north. And the place absolutely lacks the bland homogeneity of big-city theatres. One tour through the movie museum and I pronounced the thing "entertainingly batshit". Go there if you can.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:10 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

PS: furtive: The Lux! I love seeing movies at The Lux!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:18 PM on May 15, 2010

Small town Kansas here. We used to have our own locally-owned independent theater that showed second-run movies, and I really miss it. Now our nearest theater is a chain multiplex about 30 miles away. But, the same town that has the multiplex also has a wonderful old refurbished theater that shows classic movies once a week. The concession stand has wine and beer! And a box of popcorn is only $1.00!

I haven't been to the multiplex in ages (I think the last movie I saw there was "Finding Nemo"), but I definitely make the effort to go to the classic theater. It's the only place nearby where movies are still an Experience worth paying for.
posted by amyms at 9:25 PM on May 15, 2010

This quesition got me thinking about neat, rural places I've seen movies and now I have to ask how many of you can still go to a drive in. When I was at university in RI 20 years ago, there was a drive in up north somewhere (around Woonsocket, maybe? Just over the border in MA?) that I went to with local friends one summer.

It's closed now, but I am so glad that I had that experience. It's holding on, apparently, but I don't know where any are.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:50 PM on May 15, 2010

A few years ago, I was travelling and ended up in Ohio somewhere, seeing a friend, and we went to see - and this will date exactly when I was there - 'Snakes on a Plane', on opening night, at a drive-in. It was ridiculous and bizarre and I had a terrific time (except for the bursitis in my ankle flaring up as it hadn't before or since). It was $5 and we brought our own stuff and had a blast, then hit a Steak'n'Shake after before crashing.
posted by mephron at 10:03 PM on May 15, 2010

I live on a rural island with a permanent population of 2500 or so plus a lot of seasonal visitors, and I just got back from watching a movie at the local community hall. There's a film society that shows a new-on-DVD movie once every 2 weeks or so, projecting it onto a big screen (a lot smaller than a real movie theatre, a lot bigger than a TV) for an audience of 20-35 people. Admission is by donation. They tend to show smaller or foreign films -- in the last 6 months I've seen the latest Pedro Aldomovar and Woody Allen movies, as well as Coco Before Chanel -- but they did Avatar a few weeks ago.

If I wanted to see Iron Man 2, I could make the 1.5-hour ferry-and-bus trip into the nearest city and catch a matinee. There are also a few places to rent DVDs on the island. I signed up for a Netflix-like DVD-by-mail service when I moved here, so I'm actually watching more and better movies than I did when I lived in the city, albeit mostly on the small screen.
posted by twirlip at 10:58 PM on May 15, 2010

Sorry, Pedro Almodóvar.
posted by twirlip at 11:01 PM on May 15, 2010

I lived in rural western North Carolina for several years, and the closest movie theater was about 40 minutes away. It had three screens and showed first-run, big Hollywood type movie. Usually one screen was a kids' or family movie. The problem wasn't so much with the theater itself, just that there were so few options--the best movies didn't ever come through.

We could drive about an hour and a half to get to a city with several large movie theaters and a small art house theater with two screens.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:24 PM on May 15, 2010

As many have said, rural settings vary tremendously. The town where I went to college had a one screen theatre, films a month or two old, although some didn't get there till almost a year late. However, there were malls close by (about 20 mins) where you could see first-run movies. Also, the college itself had a film series where some pretty neat stuff was played, although they weren't latest releases, by any means.

So your film fix could come from unexpected sources. :)
posted by bardophile at 1:13 AM on May 16, 2010

I grew up in a small town in Northwestern Ontario, population 3000, which was an hour's drive away from the nearest larger town. We had one cinema, playing one movie a week (I looked them up online and this week's movie is "The Crazies", released almost 3 months ago). It wasn't really that different from any second-run cinema in a city. However, when you were talking to someone at school about movies, you wouldn't say, "Are you going to see Iron Man?" or "Are you going to see Transformers?". You'd say, "Are you going to the show?". Because there was only one show, and everybody knew what it was.
posted by Gortuk at 6:53 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live in a rural area near a mid-sized city (pop:150k, metro: 230K) which has several chain theaters with a new one being built. Movies are incredibly popular there, but it is considered a real treat to go out to one of the really small towns within an hour of the city to see movies in restored classic theaters or drive-ins. Drive-ins are seeing a surge of business in my area, which is nice to see. The chain theaters in the city are just like the chain theaters in any big city. The little theaters and drive-ins have character.
posted by bristolcat at 7:51 AM on May 16, 2010

I live in a TX town of about 30,000 - we have a 6-screen cinema. Costs $2.75 before 6 pm and double that in the evenings. It's not fancy, but it's almost free! :D

The town I grew up in in Illinois was about the same size, and until about 10 years ago it had two 2-screen theaters. Now they also have a big fancy 6 or 8 screen theater on the outskirts of town. I think the prices there are about $6 or so. A tiny town in the next county over had a drive-in with two screens until recently.

Both towns are at least 2 hours from the nearest city, and 45+min from the nearest non-strip (real) mall.
posted by WowLookStars at 9:38 AM on May 16, 2010

Here is my hometown theatre. The inside is pretty much as shabby as the outside.

It's a single screen - the owners also run the drive in theatre in the summer.

I went to see the Johnny Depp Alice in Wonderland flick there a few weeks ago. The seating is much flatter than modern theatres. Sound quality is terrible. Visually it's OK.
posted by davey_darling at 10:29 AM on May 16, 2010

Tangential, but you would not be able to grow popcorn on the roof. Corn is a deep rooted crop, with roots down as far as four feet or more. Plants on roofs experience more evapotranspiration due to increased wind above ground level. Corn already uses more water than just about any other crop, so the amount of irrigation you'd be putting on the roof of your building would be extremely likely to cause problems.

Rooftop crops only make sense 1) if there's no better place to garden, 2) they rely on little more than natural rainfall and the plants have a shallow rooting system. It would be better to use your theater rooftop as a collection area for rainwater to fill a cistern, and then use that to water stuff.

Even so, a 500 square foot plot, with all conditions being ideal, would yield about 30 pounds of popcorn per year.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:48 AM on May 16, 2010

I grew up in Nova Scotia, in a town with a pop. of about 5000--we had a small, single seat theatre--fairly small screen, sat maybe 100? The sound and projection were always pretty lousy, but it has since been taken over by the Empire chain, and I think things have improved somewhat since then. Even so, my dad insists on driving an hour to the next town over to see anything.
posted by stray at 11:26 AM on May 16, 2010

Middle of nowhere, NY, and the nearest is 30 minutes for a local, cheap place that plays the big hits and starts the crummy new releases a few weeks after their initial release date. 60 minutes gets you a real chain in a mall.

The thing is, the place that's 30 miles away charges, literally, $5, with free popcorn. So take everything into consideration. What you spend in gas might be made up somewhere else when it comes to country charm.
posted by iarerach at 12:17 PM on May 16, 2010

I'm at least an hour away from any modern multiplex.

Our local theaters are owned by the same person/company. Originally, each town had a single theater. They're college towns of populations of about 15,000 and 5,000 and another larger town 30 minutes away that has a few screens in a strip mall as well as a drive-in. The old theaters have been chopped up into 4-6 screens now. That means that we can see a good selection of new movies every week, but each movie only plays for a few weeks. Checking over their website, there are twelve movies currently playing, four of which are new this week. They added 3-D to one screen a few months ago, so we have that option too. Matinees are only on weekends, or on school holidays and vacations.

Because it's a college town, we also have a cool movie club that runs while school is in session. They pick 10 movies per semester that are either independent or foreign films and show them on Monday nights. They've also be doing The Met in HD shows for awhile.

The best theater I've been to recently is in Randolph, VT. Population of only 5,000, and they have a great old fashioned single screen movie theater. Saw HP:Half Blood Prince there with a packed theater opening weekend.
posted by saffry at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2010

I live just outside a town of 3000 in Virginia, we have to drive an hour in any direction to get to a theater. The town hasn't had a theater in 40 or so years.
posted by SuzySmith at 2:35 AM on May 17, 2010

It's not exactly rural, but Muskegon, MI, a depressed former industrial town, recently opened a two-screen art house, in addition to the multiplex at the mall. It would conceivably draw from rural areas nearby. I think film lovers are willing to drive an hour or so to see out of the ordinary films.
posted by goatdog at 6:14 PM on May 17, 2010

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