A reader writes:
My wife and I (late 40s, kids out of college) haven't been to the "big chain" theaters for at least five years now – it's the teenagers talking, laughing, cell phone calls, etc. We've been spoiled by the pristine conditions at home.
The exception is the "over 21" theaters we have in Portland, Oregon. They run movies that are just about to come out on DVD for a very low price, have great pizza, and a beer or glass of wine. No one under 21 allowed, and the 21-29 crowd seems very reasonable. We just saw the movie "Drive", ate two giant slices of pizza, drank two hefeweizen beers, for $20 (yes, really) at the Laurelhurst theater. No distractions, great place to set our drinks and pizza, it was awesome as usual.
First-run mega-theaters: let the kids have 'em. I'll never go back.
A reader in Austin is on the same page:
When I read your post, one movie chain stood out: The Alamo Drafthouse, which started in Austin, Texas. You may remember this chain when its no-talking PSA [seen above] made national news (and you linked to it back then). Ebert hits on some critical points which can also be attributed to the Alamo's success.
Obviously, they're very strict about texting and talking during the movie, but they're also not out to get you. They rely on the audience members to flag violators to the wait staff by writing it down on an order card. This keeps the process fairly anonymous. After the usually funny PSA, they show a screen which basically says, "No, seriously. No talking. Keep your phone silent and dark. We really, really mean it." I've personally witnessed in other theaters people answering their phones, screaming kids, and parents having conversations with their kids throughout the movie, and for that reason alone I now only watch movies at the Alamo.
They also have fun events all the time. Master Pancake (their version of Mystery Science Theater 3000) sells out frequently. They have sing-a-longs, quote-a-longs, and more. But what everyone loves is that they offer food and drink (yes, including alcohol). Admittedly, their food has gotten on the expensive side, but most of it is good. They try new menu items. They show you how a movie theater can offer you more than cartoonishly large popcorn buckets and soda.
Update from another reader:
I'm sure someone's already mentioned Cinebarre, north of Seattle. My husband and I (late 50s) won't go to the movies anywhere else. Just as strict on talking and texting. Burgers, pizza, beer and NO yapping teenagers or crying babies. Clean, comfortable – a little spendy, but first-run films in a pleasant atmosphere is so worth it!