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The best San Francisco movie theaters

Film buffs rejoice—mainstream multiplexes haven’t stamped out classic San Francisco movie theaters screening indie, retro and art-house fare

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Serafina Kernberger
Balboa Theatre

San Francisco has appeared in more than 4,000 movies and, recently, seems to have been completely destroyed in every one. But visitors and residents will note that the city—and several of its historic movie theaters—still stands. Grande dames like the Castro Theatre have been lovingly restored and maintained, and smaller venues such as the fog-enshrouded Balboa in the Richmond District still cling to the bygone era of fresh popcorn and noir glamour. Speaking of noir, the city that gave us Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade is home to the annual Noir City film festival at the Castro, dedicated to screening lost gems and pre-code features. The long list of film festivals on the calendar of San Francisco events also includes such high profile showcases as SF IndieFest and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

San Francisco movie theaters

Sundance Kabuki Cinema

Recommended

Purchased in 2006 by Robert Redford's independent Sundance Cinemas, the complex contains cafés and a full bar—you can even enjoy beer, wine and cocktails during certain screenings. The Sundance Kabuki also serves as the main venue for the San Francisco International Film Festival.

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Japantown

Castro Theatre

Recommended

One of San Francisco's finest and best-loved repertory cinemas, this movie palace was built in 1922. It became a registered landmark 55 years later, giving it the protection it deserves. These days it's a dream space of classical murals and rare old film posters, with ceilings that shimmer with gold and films introduced to the strains of a Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ.

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Castro

Balboa Theatre

Recommended

Foggy Outer Richmond is home to a small shopping district on Balboa Street that lays claim to this great local cinema. Opened in 1926 and designed by the Reid Bros., whose other iconic San Francisco creations include the original Cliff House and the Fairmont Hotel, this cozy movie house screens everything from new releases, second-run films, indie and classic noir double-features.

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Richmond

Roxie Theatre & Little Roxie

Recommended

San Francisco's oldest theater, the Roxie opened a century before it became a community-run nonprofit in 2009. World premières of cutting-edge documentaries, classic film noirs and '60s horror flicks are only a taste of the impressive range of films staged at this 238-seat gem, which lays claim to the title of the "second-oldest continual run cinema in the world." Next door, the 49-seat Little Roxie has a great projection set-up, a terrific sound system and a program of stuff too weird even for its edgy parent to show.

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Mission

AMC Metreon 16

If you absolutely, positively have to see a just-released blockbuster in 3D IMAX with the latest sound system technology, this is the theater to visit. Always at the cutting edge of movie screening technology, the Metreon is either a feast for, or an assault on, the senses—probably depending on your age.

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SoMa

Ninth Street Independent Film Center

Eight arts organizations banded together to bring the work of independent filmmakers to the public, resulting in this state-of-the-art facility. Look for screenings from organizations including San Francisco Cinematheque, LGBT film group Frameline, the Center for Asian American Media and more.

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SoMa

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