Best movie theaters in Austin
The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar is arguably the best place to catch a flick in Austin. It isn't necessarily its proximity to the many bustling businesses flanking it, or the fact that it’s adjacent to/partnered with karaoke bar the Highball. It’s really just the Goldilocks of ATX movie theaters: It ain’t too fancy (chips and dip in a big, round tin, not on a posh plate...ahem, Mueller), the drinks and food are friggin’ delicious and there are nine screens featuring current, classic and special event screenings, including the annual mini-film fest, the 24-hour Butt-Numb-A-Thon held each December. Any true Austinite can confirm—nobody beats Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.
The best way to sum up the difference between this Alamo Drafthouse and others is that it’s a little more upscale. That isn't as snooty as it sounds—it’s the newest location with the most updates, which includes every seat as a cushiony power-recliner (relax, but don’t doze off!). Add to that a creative menu (more health-friendly foods and beers/cocktails), ample validated parking, plus the in-house Barrel O’ Fun bar downstairs (which also functions as an occasional live music venue) and you’ve got yourself an almost unbeatable cinematic experience.
Think Alamo Drafthouse-style—reserved, comfortable seating with fold-out dining tables and drink holders for high-quality food and beverage choices—but more intimate and with a focus on independent films (they still show studio selections, but offer more international and documentary choices). Worried about parking downtown? Ain’t no thang: spaces in an adjacent garage are validated for up to four hours. The only downside for some might be that there is no wait service inside the auditoriums, so you’ll need to order prior to the movie or leave to get more snacks on your own. Then again, it’s a plus not having someone constantly trying to sneak by you while you’re focused on the flick.
The Regal Cinemas Arbor 8 in North Austin is a longtime ATX gem in the rough. While they do show a rotation of popular studio films, they’ve always championed B-movies, art house films, documentaries and other special screenings. The best part: it feels like only a small sector of the population frequents the spot, so you’ll rarely run into a sold-out situation when looking for tickets. We love the artsy Arbor 8 for its dedication to keeping Austin weird!
Just because it only has two screens doesn’t mean this Alamo Drafthouse, located downtown in the heart of the Dirty 6th bar scene, is lacking in entertainment. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Aside from the standard full meal and bar service at your reserved seat during each film, this location continually keeps it quirky by offering more special screening events than any other Drafthouse, including Terror Tuesdays, Weird Wednesdays, music video dance parties and 70mm showings, to name a few. Tired of the typical? Head to the Ritz.
The recently renovated AFS Cinema (formerly the Marchesa at the Linc shopping center) is a true film lover’s Mecca. With the Austin Film Society at the helm, it’s now fully equipped with two screens showing specially curated selections—including repertory series, new restorations, documentaries, independent films, premieres and first runs—plus a full bar and café serving homemade concessions, cocktails, craft beer and espresso beverages. Many films are accompanied by introductions, discussions and/or panels featuring film programmers, directors or other special guests, so it really is “the Best Little Art House in Texas.”
The Manchaca location of the Blue Starlite is a relatively exclusive setup (only 30-50 cars per night) and caters to film buffs of all types, with high priority on child favorites, indie, art house and cult classics—often shown in double-feature format! Bonus: it’s BYOB, and they also offer standard concessions at the Cinema Saloon (serving local craft beers and wine) slated to open in 2018.
If you’re looking for a more traditional ATX cinema setup (in other words: not Alamo Drafthouse) but still want to be able to enjoy the movie with an adult libation in hand, the newly renovated AMC in super-north Austin (technically Cedar Park) at Lakeline Mall is a good bet. The new digs include 10 wall-to-wall screens showing all the current studio films, power recliners and an expanded food menu and full bar (though there’s no auditorium wait service).
There are some movies that just warrant a bigger, more immersive experience, and for those you have to check out the IMAX Theatre at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Not only does it house the largest screen in the city—perfect for either dazzling documentary footage or big-budget studio films—but it also boasts an immersive sound system and the only theater in Texas (and one of a few in the world) to use the IMAX with Laser projection system, which renders 50 percent brighter pictures and a more lifelike range of vivid colors for both 2D and 3D. And if you don’t mind forgoing the gourmet food and alcoholic beverage choices of other top ATX theaters, the ticket prices are only a couple bucks higher than average.
Dubbing itself “the Ultimate Theater Experience” and “the Ultimate Night Out,” iPic—located at the Domain in North Austin—aims to live up to those claims by offering freshly prepared gourmet food (curated by acclaimed chef Sherry Yard) and high-quality cocktails, wine and beer, which patrons can purchase and take into the auditorium with them (there’s also restaurant style seating in the bar area if you prefer to enjoy dinner before or after the film separately). Each reserved seat is more comfortable than your average theater throne, but upgrading to Premium Plus gets you a reclining leather chair with a pillow, blanket and free popcorn, plus wait service for concessions. The only downside is the price point, which is almost twice as much as a ticket at any other similar establishment.