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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Thomas Hawk

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.

Michael Juliano
Edited by
Michael Juliano
Contributor
Kate Wertheimer
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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.

RECOMMENDED: 57 best films about Los Angeles

Movie theaters were allowed to reopen in L.A. County on March 15, however some cinemas have yet to do so.

L.A.’s 13 best movie theaters

  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • 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.

  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Fairfax District
  • price 1 of 4

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
  • Downtown Financial District
  • price 2 of 4

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
  • Multiplex
  • 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
  • Santa Monica

The Aero reopens June 10.

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
  • 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.

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  • Movie theaters
  • Multiplex
  • Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

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.

  • Movie theaters
  • Multiplex
  • 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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  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Santa Ana

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.

  • Movie theaters
  • Multiplex
  • Hollywood

ArcLight announced that it’ll be closing all of its theaters.

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.

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  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Los Feliz
  • price 1 of 4

The Vista will reopen “later this year.”

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
  • Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

American Cinematheque has yet to announce its reopening plans for the Egyptian.

Built by the same man who erected the Chinese Theatre and El Capitan Theatre, the Egyptian was faithfully restored by American Cinematheque in 1998 (who also run the Aero in Santa Monica). Though the building itself is now owned by Netflix, the not-for-profit company continues to program a wide range of excellent themed mini-festivals and one-off Q&As with legendary figures, as well as classic films and contemporary indie cinema.

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  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Los Feliz
  • price 1 of 4

The Vintage Los Feliz 3 will reopen in July, and American Cinematheque will now handle the programming.

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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