10 best movie theaters in America

posted by HowardBHaas on March 9, 2009 at 7:44 am

Ross Melnick of Cinema Treasures & Karen Noonan of Theatre Historical Society advised Moving Pictures magazine on the best ten movie theaters in America.

Last summer, The Dark Knight opened on 4,300 American movie theater screens, approximately 20 percent of the 26,000 screens available in the United States, according to National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). It’s quite possible that you enjoyed the movie’s majestic, panoramic visuals in a theater boasting state-of-the-art projection and sound, but it’s just as likely that you saw the film in a tiny box with a postage stamp-sized screen. Not every silver screen in America is golden, after all. That said, the below-listed screens are among the ten best in the nation, according to Moving Pictures with help from Ross Melnick of Cinema Treasures, a website devoted to classic movie theaters, and Karen Colizzi Noonan, president of Theatre Historical Society of America.

See the list at Moving Pictures.

Also check out a similar piece from Travel and Leisure.

Comments (14)

JodarMovieFan on March 10, 2009 at 7:19 am

Its nice that Baltimore’s Senator is up there again. I was on the website yesterday and they have the donation link up again. I suspect the place is in financial trouble again. Unfortunately, no one is talking. And there aren’t any new posts in the forums and my request for new posts have gone ignored so far. Unless there is some news about an imminent closure, I’m not planning on donating any funds.

Giles on March 10, 2009 at 7:46 am

despite the fact that there are no special engagements, the projector bulb is dimming and recent 35mm prints looked like $#%@, movies on the the massive 70 foot screen at DC’s Uptown Theatre still packs a wallop.

Too bad that the AFI Silver didn’t make the list considering many filmmakers SAY it’s one of the best in the country.

Karen Colizzi Noonan
Karen Colizzi Noonan on March 10, 2009 at 9:59 am

Jodar – if you google the Senator Theatre you will see tons of articles about the current situation there.

Karen Colizzi Noonan
Karen Colizzi Noonan on March 10, 2009 at 10:13 am

Speaking for myself, the reporter asked first about the Senator Theater, then conversationally asked what I would consider to be the 10 best movie theaters in America. Not understanding that this would become the focus of the article, I started talking about more obscure theaters – ones that don’t automatically comes to mind – which is how the Smith Opera House/Schine Geneva theater ended up mentioned. And why Radio City Music Hall was not mentioned.

As i explained to the reporter, everyone automatically thinks of RCMH, or the Pantages, the Chicago, etc. The “10 Best” designation can be broken up into a million sub-categories which is probably why THS has never released an official list.

In my mind each historic theater is special in its own way. Each adds a thread to the great tapestry of American history. Each deserves to be cherished, treasured, preserved and proteted by their community.

I invite everyone reading this to submit their OWN personal favorites! What a debate that would be!!

Karen Colizzi Noonan, President
Theatre Historical Society

Giles on March 10, 2009 at 10:15 am

“Strange that Radio City Music Hall in New York City didn’t make the list. I realize that it’s now classified as a performing arts center, but so is the Oakland Paramount, which did get listed.”

Similiarily, the Paramount in Charlottesville, Virginia, is also a performing arts center but is also set up for film presentation (complete with surround sound speaker setup). Films during the annual Virginia Film Festival look and sound great… and the theatre is really beautiful.

JodarMovieFan on March 10, 2009 at 10:39 am


I’ve been keeping abreast of the Senator’s woes and attempts to reorganize perahaps as a non-profit but my previous post brings to light the fact the virtual donation box is up again. If the Senator is say now $500K in debt and they will close by the end of March, then somebody needs to say so and get the word out and get people to send in whatever they can and as fast as they can. I’ll be one of them, as will my friends and whomever I meet that enjoys movies in the better venues like the Senator.


I was wondering about that myself with regard to the AFI Silver and the Uptown. We’ve blogged about recent Uptown experiences but they don’t live up to the best that would warrant being on a 10-best list.

As far as other venues, my memory of visiting the Westwood in LA was memorable. In fact, I think the experience of watching a movie there was superior than the Senator’s (at that particular time). Plus, the venue seemed more ornate, better maintained while still boasting state-of-the-art projection. I believe they/are THX certified, as well. There are also Grauman’s Chinese and Disney’s El Capitan.

HowardBHaas on March 10, 2009 at 11:09 am

If the criteria would be places movies are still shown at any time…..classic movies are shown many times a year at the Oakland Paramount, but the public never gets to see movies at Radio City. I’d put the DC Uptown on my list, though of course I’d like a classic 70mm once in a while there as they did before AMC tookover. I saw a comment in another page that the AFI Silver isn’t nonprofit but it is nonprofit.

JodarMovieFan, yes, Los Angeles movie theaters, being in the region where Hollywood is located, do a great job. Surround sound is better.

Giles on March 10, 2009 at 11:18 am

personally I’d like to see someone other than AMC run the Uptown here in DC, there really needs to be way to book and present classic films on the big screen for the Uptown ‘experience’

oh that was me regarding the AFI Silver – sorry for the wrong info.

Giles on March 10, 2009 at 11:37 am

I think though the theatres that were chosen were not for the overall presentation factor but the programming. I gather these theatres make a consertive effort in bucking the trend and offer films that not the mainstream or the most current batch from Hollywood. That’s why it kind of surprised me that the AFI Silver theatre didn’t make it considering the old theatre was pretty much retained, but also added two other auditoriums AND features one of the nation’s premier Documentary Film Festivals: Silverdocs (and the annual European Union Film Festival – which gets better every year). The inclusion of the Zeigfeld and Arclight reflect that both mainstream and classic co-exist (something that the Uptown doesn’t and haven’t done in quite some time)

Giles on March 10, 2009 at 11:40 am

I don’t know if this true or not, but I thought I read somewhere that the theatres in the LA area, in general, set the noise level a tad higher than other national chain theatres?

Ross Melnick
Ross Melnick on March 10, 2009 at 2:12 pm

As Karen mentioned above, we were asked to choose theaters that were not typically selected for such lists.

This discussion has been very helpful, though, and I look forward to submitting the AFI Silver and the Loew’s Jersey for the next round.

Over the years, we’ve done a number of “top ten” lists, but always with the disclaimer that they are not, in fact, the top ten theaters in America. Who could or should make such a list? I have my favorites, of course, but sometimes it is about showcasing a theater in need, highlighting technological or programmatic change, or, in some cases like Spirit Magazine, focusing on theaters in cities where Southwest Airlines flies.

If anything, these lists are good for making us think about our favorite theaters and our desire to lobby for their preservation and their use.

JodarMovieFan on March 12, 2009 at 6:56 am

For those of you on the Senator’s email list, they’ve sent out the word that they are about to shut down and be auctioned off. I sent the news link to this site but it has yet to post. Now, it makes sense as to why they put up the donation link. Today, in an even stranger turn of events, they took down the donation link! Are they resigning themselves to the inevitability of closure and being sold?

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on March 18, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Crazy that Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in not on the list. I love the Cinerama Dome and moved into the area I live in so I can walk to both, but I’d rather see a film at the Chinese before I would see it at the Dome.

TLSLOEWS on February 9, 2010 at 11:04 am

The Loews Jersey should be on this list.Since it shows movies again.

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