For the movie buffs who frequent Austin's Alamo Drafthouse, the theater matters as much as the show. They go for the themed dinners, the sing-alongs and and the chance to wear outrageous costumes.
Even as home entertainment systems get bigger, there's a longing for the thrills associated with the heyday of glamorous movie palaces -- for a communal experience that justifies the ticket price and inspires viewers to get off that sofa. Select new and classic theaters have responded by introducing advanced technology, cool events, and gourmet treats like bacon-fat popcorn.
University lecturer Ross Melnick welcomes this renaissance after years of bland shoebox-type theaters and megaplexes: "It's all about trying to bring back the style of the past and marry it with the technology of the future." He cofounded the fan site Cinema Treasures, which devotedly chronicles the world's coolest movie theaters. "They're cultural centers within a neighborhood," says Melnick. "You can see them from a few blocks away--the lights, the marquee, the crowd, the show has already begun."
For travelers, these theaters with personality are yet another way to get an authentic taste of a destination.
The largest cinema in northern Europe is also currently the largest movie palace in the world certified for THX—George Lucas’s premium audiovisual benchmark. Dominated by a squat gray-and-cream dome, it resembles a futuristic spaceship that’s crash-landed in Scandinavia, but it was actually built in 1921. Throughout its 90-year history, the Kino has kept up with technological advances, from pioneering Cinemascope in the 1950s to the late-1990s THX-aimed overhaul. See more of the World's Coolest Movie Theaters Photo: Truus, Bob & Jan Too!
This Bollywood-boosting movie palace is tucked away in Rajasthan’s gem-dealing capital—fittingly, the seating sections are named after precious stones (Emerald, Diamond). Yet the ticket prices remain a bargain at around $3 per person. Built in the mid-1970s and still considered India’s top theater, it is easily recognized by its jaunty pink façade, which dominates the street. Inside, the heavily ornamented lobby resembles a retro-Deco ballroom in ice cream–colored pastels. Look for testimonies to the cinema’s greatness from Amitabh Bachchan and other Bollywood icons pasted onto a column at its center. See more of the World's Coolest Movie Theaters Photo: Erick Nguyen / Alamy
This quirky indie movie chainlet has been known to kick out patrons for texting during a show. That’s a tip-off to the seriousness of the place, which also has an offbeat charm. The Drafthouse once showed the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy at an event called Hobbit Feast, where viewers ate only when the on-screen characters did; periodic screenings call for everyone to dress as a particular character—say, Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro. See more of the World's Coolest Movie Theaters Photo: Alamo Drafthouse
Haphazardly built from corrugated iron and jarrah wood in 1916 to entertain locals in this isolated outback town’s once-thriving pearl-diving industry, the endearingly rickety cinema is the world’s oldest operating outdoor picture garden (first silent film shown: racy racing drama Kissing Cup). Saved by a wealthy local businessman in the early 1980s, it’s been preserved almost unchanged. See more of the World's Coolest Movie TheatersPhoto: LOOK Die Bildagentur der Fotografen GmbH / Alamy
McMenamins is a local empire of brewpubs and entertainment venues, with more than 50 different spaces in the city, many artfully repurposing old buildings (church, farm, ballroom). The coolest is undoubtedly the Kennedy School, a onetime elementary school that’s now a 35-room hotel and restaurant plus an eccentric movie theater housed in the old auditorium. The 300-seat cinema shows second-run and repertory movies nightly, plus kid-friendly Mommy Matinees, with comfy armchairs and a full menu of McMenamins craft brews available at your seat. See more of the World's Coolest Movie Theaters Photo: Courtesy of The Kennedy School
The cobblestoned streets of Brooklyn’s waterfront DUMBO district welcomed this gastropub theater (an extension of the dive ReBar) in Summer 2010. It spotlights undistributed or unfairly overlooked indie circuit films, projected from a DVD player on a 12-foot screen while cinemagoers recline on repurposed car seats (yep, there are seat belts too). See the rest of World's Coolest Movie Theaters Photo: Courtesy of reRun Cinema
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