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The best movie theaters in Los Angeles

Movie theaters are a dime a dozen here around L.A., but these classic cinemas are a reel above the rest.

By Kate Wertheimer and Time Out contributors |
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Arclight Cinerama Dome
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia/UpdateNerd Arclight Cinerama Dome

Guys, it’s L.A. If Hollywood is the local industry, there’s no shortage of places to check out the resulting product. There are movie theaters, screening rooms, DIY projections, outdoor screenings and local film events everywhere. But when you’re looking for the best possible place to plant yourself for two hours of cinematic bliss, there are a few spots that rise above the rest. Whether you’re into arthouse, black-and-white, B-movie bonanzas or the most luxurious assigned-seating theater/cocktail lounge, this city has it all. Here are our picks for the best movie theaters and classic cinemas L.A. has to offer.

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L.A.’s 13 best movie theaters

Alamo Drafthouse
Photograph: Michael Juliano
Movie theaters

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

icon-location-pin Downtown Financial District

If you’ve never been to an Alamo Drafthouse location, here’s the gist: The theater screens first-run flicks along with repertory picks (for example, Terror Tuesday, with deep-cut horror films, and Weird Wednesday, with all sorts of dusted-off oddities) all within plush cinemas with in-theater food and drink service (including booze) and a hardline no talking, no texting policy.

Movie theaters, Independent

New Beverly Cinema

icon-location-pin Fairfax District

Cinephiles study their ABCs at this beloved grindhouse, backed by no less a student of the medium than Quentin Tarantino, who has a personal hand in booking much of the programming. Tarantino is known for his love of old-school film formats and he has outfitted the New Bev to show as many of them as possible, with four-track mag heads and a 16mm projector among the offerings. On your way into a showing, take a second to glance around at the walls, which have been decorated with a collection of large-scale vintage European movie posters.

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Movie theaters, Multiplex

ArcLight Hollywood

icon-location-pin Hollywood

A Hollywood favorite since 2002, the ArcLight offers comfortable assigned seating (cushy, reclining leg room for days), state-of-the-art sight and sound, fantastic snack bars and, for some Dionysian indulgence, an in-house café-bar. The programming is an astute mix of first-run flicks, indies, foreign fare and premieres, and alcohol is allowed in some screenings. As an added bonus, there are always fun cinephile treats on display (original costumes, architectural models, etc.). It’s the most appealing modern multiplex in L.A., but it’s also a classic due to the Cinerama Dome, a fabulous and unique domed movie theater that opened in 1963. Note that parking is usually pretty rough: There’s a garage that validates but it gets pretty packed, so allow plenty of time to find a space and don’t expect to escape quickly.

Chinese Theatre
Photograph:
Movie theaters, Multiplex

TCL Chinese Theatre

icon-location-pin Hollywood

Look, the forecourt of this iconic movie theater is a tourist-choked hot mess. But beyond those foot and hand prints, it’s an entirely different story. You can avoid the crowds by catching a flick inside, where the auditorium is as stunning as the IMAX screen’s laser projection quality. Note that the historic theater is attached to a six-screen multiplex; you’ll want to ignore those and splurge on the main theater (listed online as Auditorium 7), which typically shows a single blockbuster at a time.

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Movie theaters, Independent

Vista Theater

icon-location-pin Los Feliz

The historic single-screen Vista Theater plays movies on actual film reels (no digital here) and boasts giant Art Deco light fixtures, kitschy Egyptian-themed wall details and a lovely manager, Victor Martinez, who dresses up for every opening (think: Willy Wonka for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Joker for The Dark Knight, etc.). The theater is by no means luxury (although the leg room is pretty spectacular), but it’s got character and is within walking distance of Silver Lake, Los Feliz and East Hollywood, making it an extra appealing option for Eastsiders.

Movie theaters, Independent

Nuart Theatre

icon-location-pin Sawtelle

Exclusive engagements of independent movies, foreign flicks, arthouse curios and restored classics fill the calendar at this longstanding operation, run by the folks behind the Landmark in West L.A. and the Regent in Westwood. There are midnight screenings on Fridays (the ever-changing and always amazing CineInsomnia series) and Saturdays (always dedicated to the Rocky Horror Picture Show). Just nearby stands CineFile Video, a cult rental store that specializes in rare, unusual and hard-to-find films.

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Movie theaters, Independent

American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre

icon-location-pin Santa Monica

Enjoy screenings of classic films and contemporary independent cinema, plus special programs and series, director appearances and lectures at this Art Deco–designed landmark. It’s been in operation since the ’40s and is owned by American Cinematheque, which also runs the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood—an equally impressive venue (though you’ll wade through a lot more tourists to get inside). Cinephiles, check the American Cinematheque website for special programs—they’re plentiful and impeccably curated.

Movie theaters, Multiplex

El Capitan

icon-location-pin Hollywood

Yearning to relive your childhood and indulge in a Disney flick? El Capitan’s your spot: The lavish 1926-built theater screens old and new classics like Cinderella, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Finding Nemo, as well as first-run movies from the Disney companies, including Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Tickets are indeed pricier than your run-of-the-mill cinema, but then again, where else do you get to see a 2,500-pipe organ be played before the show? A kid-friendly performance typically precedes each screening, as well.

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Movie theaters, Multiplex

Laemmle Playhouse 7

icon-location-pin Pasadena Playhouse District

In L.A., Laemmle Theaters is one of the most hallowed places to watch the best in independent and foreign films. With eight locations all over the Greater LA region, Laemmle (say “LEM-lee”) is a cornerstone for great film, previews, screenings and events. Established in 1938, the company is still family-run by (you guessed it) the Laemmles. Rent out one of their theaters for a special event, and check their website for an ever-changing list of staff favorites, if you’re torn on which flick to see. And remember to take advantage of their plentiful discounts, including the free Sneak Preview Club, Student Sundays and Free Popcorn Thursdays.

Credit: Photograph: Downtown Independent
Movie theaters, Independent

Downtown Independent

icon-location-pin Downtown Historic Core

This 222-seat indie movie house in the heart of Downtown sells wine and beer to sip on during the show—score. Though it’s nightly programming has quieted down in recent years, it still hosts a slew of worthwhile premieres and film fests.

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Movie theaters, Multiplex

The Landmark

icon-location-pin Westside

This swanky theater has 12 auditoriums, top-notch digital projection and sound and more than 3,000 parking spaces for you and all your friends… and all their friends. The Landmark also boasts the best theater food in the city. There’s a full-service wine bar—which, in addition to red, white and bubbly, has a pretty great beer list—offering happy hour discounts and cappuccinos. It also has a tasty and reasonably priced menu with fancy eats (like a prosciutto and provolone sandwich and an artisan cheese plate) alongside more traditional theater favorites like the hallowed Hebrew National hot dog (served on a bun from La Brea Bakery). You can rent the entire theater for special events, or get cozy in the venue’s luxury screening room.

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