Millions of people were raised on big box cinemas that rose from the suburbs and every outlying area in the 90s like AMC and Regal Theaters. They posed a huge hit to independent places and put thousands of small theaters and drive-ins out of business around the country almost squashing independent industry altogether.
For some, there will always be a feeling of nostalgia when you remember first dates and Friday nights at artsy little one-room cinemas. Each neighborhood location has its own stamp of individuality, and luckily there’s been an undercurrent of independent theatergoers that have kept these special places alive through modern times.
In a city like Seattle where individuality, art, and passion are celebrated, it’s important to remember that theater is a place of education, growth, and expression. Supporting independent theaters is important to communities, local landscapes and subsidizes artists and business.
Not only do theaters support owners and workers, but it makes our communities interesting and unique. Giving a nod to our heritage and keeping Seattle the amazing and vibrant city that it is.
Central Cinema is located in Seattle, sitting in a pretty brick building with a vintage marquis and a mosaic tree lining the front door. Inside, high ceilings with exposed brick, local artwork, and industrial lighting hang in cords from the ceiling with light-bulbs shining through glass milk jugs that light up this funky, artsy space. You can have dinner in the dining room before the show or dine at your seat during the film. The menu is gourmet and affordable offering bacon wrapped shrimp, a tasty list of burgers and sandwiches, specialty pizzas and curry popcorn among others.
Check the calendar often for a quirky list of old and new school flicks, cult classics, little known Indy films and classics like Dancing in the Rain, Blazing Saddles and Super Troopers light up the big screens. Central Cinema is guaranteed a hilarious and entertaining night out, they not only show extraordinary movies, but there are also sing-alongs, something called hecklevision that’s said to be hilarious, trivia nights, jam sessions and some have a Q and A afterward.
Central Cinema hosts award shows like the Grammy’s and Academy Awards, Oscars and every Thursday night is a Cartoon Happy Hour where kids can bring their friends and watch a free night of cartoons. The Cinema often offers $1.99 shows and free events, don’t miss out and enjoy a quirky, entertaining night out with a first date or the whole family.
Cinerama has been a neighborhood staple downtown since 1963. In 1997 it went through a bit of a rough spot when it almost went under to the bigger chain cinemas but was saved by a big-hearted investor. Seattleites are happy that it’s not going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
Cinerama has recently undergone a huge renovation, installing state of the art sound. The new laser projectors show incredible color and detail, they are the only one of their kind in a commercial theater. Red leather reclining chairs create luxury in the Cinerama’s one and only theater. All of the upgrades were implemented without losing any of the vintage character. Red and blue artwork covers the top of the building, bringing charm to the neighborhood and highlighting themes found in movies played within the walls. The Cinerama is a favorite for cult classics, first-run movies and film festivals.
All the guests rave about the offbeat chocolate popcorn. The concessions list is small but perfect hitting everything that you could ask for and sourced from local taverns, chocolatiers and ice creameries with local brews and wines available. A rotating exhibit of movie costumes graces the lobby behind glass offering interesting conversation pieces.
The Grand Illusion Cinema, located next to the University of Washington, is a little gem of a building. If you’re looking for a big box cinema, you will be disappointed. The Grand Illusion is an experience in itself, It’s the oldest, continuously running cinema since 1968 in Seattle. A non-profit, run entirely by volunteers.
This little theater is worth going to, just to help fund it with your ticket price, which is usually under ten dollars. The ends of the rows are beautifully carved and wooden with heavy red velvet curtains and deep-set ceiling tiles above. The Grand Illusion shows the classics, rare films and global, independent pictures covering every genre. Ticket prices are low, there is a small concession stand, and the volunteers running it are passionate about the location and films they play.
Ark Lodge Cinemas is a vintage Cinema located in Colombia City. Three theaters are small and intimate, two are what you might expect with traditional theater seating. Upstairs is the Prestige theater, a collection of armchairs, love seats and side tables greet you like a comfortable alternative to traditional seating. Colorful murals and bright red-carpet line the walls in the entrance creating a fun and inviting atmosphere entering the fresh bright space. A small snack section is available with high-quality popcorn at good prices.
Northwest Film Forum is a small indie theater in Capitol Hill that shows small productions and often hosts international film festivals. They offer classes for budding filmmakers in every stage of the process from children’s workshops to adult learners.The lobby is what you might expect from this little place with a quirky plaid couch and a small concession stand offering beer and wine. Repurposed glass light fixtures give a fitting and artistic vibe. If you’re interested in learning something about little known parts of the world check their schedule often, the films are quickly fleeting, but always worth seeing. Northwest holds popular children’s film festivals, so bring your kids, it’s a beautiful way to educate young minds in a way they’ll remember.
These theaters bring an appreciation of the unique and vibrant people who strive to bring cult classics and indie films to the small and large screens around the city. Bring your kids and re-discover your childhood loves and laughs sharing moments on indie screens with your neighbors.