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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.

Photograph: Courtesy Nuart Theatre
Nuart Theatre

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 best movie theaters

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre

In 2007, the film landscape in Los Angeles changed forever with the opening of Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, brainchild of LA native Hadrian Belove (founder of CineFile Video) and the Harkham family. Belove and his dedicated staff and volunteers have offered up some of the most diverse, wacky and thought-provoking programming in the city. For some, the theater is a place for parties and pop-culture tributes. For others, an arthouse salon, a venue for contemporary indie films, or a host for major international directors. You'll find everything here, from kitschy B movies to punch-proud masterpieces—with fun concessions such as giant cupcakes and coffee—plus lots of special guests and parties out back. Cinefamily has also launched a roving screening series taking their films to new spaces.

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Fairfax District

New Beverly Cinema

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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Beverly
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Downtown Independent

A 222-seat movie theater in the heart of Downtown that sells wine and beer to sip on during the show. This very cool indie movie house also offers $5 tickets to DTLA locals and has a variety of interesting film events and 21+ screenings. In addition to artsy and international films, you might see work by new local filmmakers or catch one of the regular live stand-up comedy nights the venue hosts along with the movies.

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Downtown

Nuart Theatre

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 LA 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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West LA
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Bing Theater at LACMA

The Leo S. Bing Theater at LACMA is large and comfy, and hosts revivals, foreign films, video installations and more. LACMA should be commended for giving film such an important place alongside its art: the museum presents regular screenings, weekend series and retrospectives in conjunction with its exhibits, and hosts matinee screenings of Hollywood classics each Tuesday. The theater also partners with Film Independent, which hosts its series of classics, new releases, documentaries, one-of-a-kind events, guest-curated programs and conversations on film and filmmaking. As a film geek bonus, all films are screened on 35mm, unless noted otherwise.

 

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Miracle Mile

American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre

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.

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Santa Monica
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Laemmle Playhouse 7

In LA, 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 Sneaks Club (sneak peek screenings), Student Sundays and Free Popcorn Thursdays.

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Pasadena

The Landmark

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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Westside
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Vintage Los Feliz 3

This three-screen theater in the heart of Los Feliz first opened its doors in 1934, as the subtle Art Deco touches and notes of old-school glam might suggest, though the projection system has been upgraded to today's state-of-the-art. The cinema primarily serves up what might be termed 'mainstream indie' fare; if it's a big awards season fave, it probably played here. 

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Los Feliz

The Frida Cinema

Operated by the non-profit Long Beach Cinematheque, this Santa Ana art house channels a little bit of the spirit of Frida Kahlo (the name is an intentional homage) by bringing work of filmmakers who value art and expression over commerce. Screenings include everything from vintage classics to festival-circuit shorts. The Frida team also organizes outdoor screenings and special events around Long Beach and Orange County. 

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Santa Ana
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ArcLight 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 LA, 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.

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Hollywood
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Comments

7 comments
Rick S
Rick S

Thanks loads for all the tips!

Matthew M
Matthew M

What about the Cinerama Dome ? 

Phoenix H
Phoenix H

@Matthew M  You're totally right, Cinerama Dome should be on the list. It's one of my favorite theaters in L.A and it's iconic with a history spanning over 5 decades. 

Robert B
Robert B

My favorites are the El Capitan, Crest, Egyptian, Aero, Vista, Billy Wilder, Regent, Village, Bruin, Cinerama Dome, NuArt, New Beverly, and Chinese.

John R. C
John R. C

This list is ridiculous, based more on the programming than the atmosphere itself. Of course, since the National was torn down, there is no theatre in Los Angeles. Everything left is just glorified TV channels. National's picture & sound were always perfect, the theatre design elegantly simple, directing all attention directly into the screen, and making maximum use of a surprisingly-small land space.

By contrast, the Village always had defects in sound & picture. The Bruin is okay, but smaller than the theatres in my small hometown, back East. Let's not get started on the multiplexes, all lacking any sense of showmanship. The Arclight is over-rated and going downhill fast, with its descendants mere shoeboxes. AMC in Century City is dreadful, with IMAX and ETX theatres smaller than a private screening room. And the dinner theatres! Yikes! Waiters always intruding during critical moments of the movie, patrons waving champagne glasses for refills, totally nuts!

I used to be a projectionist at the Vogue, The National, Picwood, Paramount (now, El Capitan with damaged projection), Avco Westwood, etc. When theatres were THEATRES and the communal experience a great treasure. And the downtown theatres, with four balconies and a screen to match! Aah, ecstasy!

With 3D available at home on a 12-foot screen, why pay for an inferior experience at the local cinemas? Heck, we don't even get 3D in the 3D theatres anymore. Might as well move to China.

John Robert Christopher/3D Video Task Force

Jean Marie M
Jean Marie M

I agree with Liam. Likewise, any of the Broadway movie theaters, The Chinese? The newly restored UA at the Ace? The Downtown Independent? You could easily do without the inclusion of Arclight or Landmark. Good for multiplexes but not as good as Laemmle's and you already have one of those. Which makes me all the more puzzled at the lack of inclusion of the Cinerama Dome, which is better than the auditoriums of any of them. The fabulous New Beverly? And a shout out to the broke-ass community: the ol' broken-down, big-hearted Regency Academy in Pasadena - good second runs with $2 pricing before nightfall and $1 hotdogs - deserves a second look (didn't see 12 years a slave the first time around? It played the Academy for at least a month; other gems pop up there all the time, too).


That being said, a very good list. You are obviously having fun in this god-forsaken wasteland (me, too).

Liam S
Liam S

HOW CAN YOU NOT INCLUDE "THE ORPHEUM"? JUST ONE OF THE CLASSIC MOVIE PALACES DOWNTOWN?

SHAME!