movie theaters

Going to the Movies

Now way more delicious, comfy, convenient, sensorial …

Photo: William Mebane
Photo: William Mebane

Last winter, ​​the city saw two beloved theaters shutter: the Upper West Side’s Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Lower East Side’s Landmark Sunshine. Those closures, combined with the drop in movie attendance nationwide in 2017 to its lowest point in 25 years, prompted a panicked slate of headlines predicting the Death of the Movie Theater. But what a difference a year makes. If you live on the Upper East Side, you may have noticed the six-story CMX CinéBistro; farther downtown, there’s the new iPic. Formerly sticky-floored wastelands have been made over with panoramic screens, dumbwaiter food service, and Scandinavian seating. As it happens, movie attendance is up 10 percent from last year, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners (the other NATO). What appears to be drawing these audiences, at least in part, are ticket-subscription services like the once-thriving, now flailing MoviePass — which had 3 million users in June — and Stubs A-List, a successful copycat program by AMC that increased the company’s sales 20 percent in less than a year. We’ve also had some real movie-theater movies to go see, like Black Panther and the latest Star Wars. For many patrons, NATO vice-president Patrick Corcoran believes, these blockbusters have been a gateway drug. “Customers went for Black Panther,” he says, then they noticed, “You can drink in theaters now? There are reclining chairs?” Corcoran adds that even attendance at documentaries is up: “We had ten documentaries make more than a million dollars this year. And three that made over $10 million: Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and RBG. Frankly, that’s unheard of.”

The Coming-Soons

Highlights of the newfangled theaters opening around the city in some extremely screen-deprived neighborhoods.

New Dorp, Staten Island | Alamo Drafthouse

Photo: Courtesy of Kimco Realty

Alamo Drafthouse, which serves in-theater cheeseburgers and pizza at its Downtown Brooklyn location (and in others across the country), plans to open another New York outlet in 2019 at a new mall in New Dorp (2600 Hylan Blvd.). At 41,000 square feet, the space will feature a kung fu–inspired bar, the Flying Guillotine, in partnership with Wu-Tang’s RZA, and a video store with free rentals. Alamo’s expansion continues with a Fidi location (28 Liberty Street), set to open in 2019.

Park Slope | Nitehawk Cinema

Photo: Nitehawk Cinema

The Williamsburg-based theater will open a second location later this winter in the former home of the Pavilion theater (188 Prospect Park W.), which closed in 2016 in a state of disrepair (patrons had bemoaned the sticky, trash-strewn floors and overflowing toilets), leaving the neighborhood theaterless. The new space will have seven screens, two bars (one of which is in a restored atrium overlooking Prospect Park), and a dumbwaiter to deliver food for in-theater service.

Lower East Side | Essex Crossing’s Regal Cinemas

Photo: Visuals/Quallsbenson

Essex Crossing — a complex of over 1,000 new residences with 375,000 square feet of office space and 400,000 square feet of retail — is expected to be completed by 2024, but one of the first elements to open will be a 14-screen movie theater (115 Delancey Street) early next year, filling the void left by the shuttering of Sunshine Cinema in early 2018. The lobby will have 80-foot ceilings, and the second floor will include a bar with a clear view of the Empire State Building.

Flushing, Queens | Tangram complex’s theater

Photo: Arx Solutions

By 2020, renovations will be complete on a project transforming the site of the erstwhile Flushing Mall. It will include a 13-story condo building, a 225,000-square-foot retail base, and, as confirmed by developers, a movie theater — the first to debut in the neighborhood in three decades. Queens has lost several theaters in recent years: Brandon Cinemas, for instance, which was a neighborhood fixture for 51 years, shut in 2014.

There’s a Cluster of Under-100-Seat Indies in Greenpoint

Photo: Kyle Hilton

Stuart Cinema & Café
79 West St.

Filmmaker Emelyn Stuart opened this teeny-tiny 70-seat art cinema this fall. It has $10 tickets ($5 for seniors), $3 popcorn, and a single theater that shows old movies like Casablanca — and old new ones like Kung Fu Panda 3.

Film Noir Cinema
122 Meserole Ave.

Will Malitek opened this video-rental store with a 54-seat theater in the back of a former Polish funeral home in 2017. He screens indie noirs only — like Blissville … An Investigation, about a remote and overlooked corner of Queens, and Revenge of the Zombies, about an evil magician and his zombie minions.

Light Industry
155 Freeman St.

Only 75 people can fit in this ten-year-old DIY space — moviegoers sit on benches made of pine two-by-fours. Obscure films like By the Bluest of Seas (1935), by Soviet filmmaker Boris Barnet, and Third World, Third World War, which was shot in North Vietnam during the period following the cease-fire of March 1968, are projected from a custom-built booth.

Order Lobster From a Leather Recliner

In the range of theaters that have opened in the past several years, the dining experiences continue to outdo themselves.

Approximate this scene from Splash, but in the fourth row. Photo: Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

If You Want to Feel Like You’re Eating in Bed …

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

iPic Fulton Market Cinema
11 Fulton St.

The iPic Fulton Market Cinema is like a plane: The premium-plus seats (orange “microsuede” recliners) come with a pillow and blanket, and food is ordered by pressing a button on the table. The bar-food-style menu resembles what you’d find at Nitehawk — pretzels with Cheddar and jalapeño ($13), for instance. Still, Grub Street’s Nikita Richardson dubbed the food “pretty highbrow.” She particularly liked the Angus sliders ($19) and the chicken Caesar salad ($16).

If You Want a Crustacean …

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

CMX CinéBistro
400 E. 62nd St.

CMX CinéBistro, which has several locations nationwide, opened its first NYC outpost in late October. The theater includes a full-floor kitchen that whips up extravagant plates like lobster cannolis ($18) and a New York strip with smoked bone marrow ($45). Early visitors report that the food is much better than it has to be — and compliment the chicken-and-churros entrée ($26). Orders are taken 30 minutes before each showing, and food is served just as the previews start. Plus: After 6 p.m., the entire theater is over-21 only.

If You Want a Chickpea Burger …

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

40 Bogart St., Bushwick

Syndicated, a 60-seat dine-in cinema in Bushwick, opened back in 2016.
Tickets are $7, the programming mostly leans curated art house (recent films include Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro), and the menu is extremely Brooklyn: There’s a cocktail called “the Squid and the Whale” and a “kombrewcha” beer. Grub Street’s Maxine Builder said the house burger ($12) is solid — as are the waffle fries ($3). The theater was designed by the firm Home Studios, which is responsible for Brooklyn spots like Donna and Fausto.

If You Want to Watch in a Restaurant …

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

Bar Laika
224 Greene Ave., Clinton Hill

Bar Laika opened in Clinton Hill in October (a project of curatorial platform e-flux) with a menu based mostly on local Atlantic seafood. And the food is genuinely tasty, with many visitors talking up the curry with onsen egg ($12) in particular. After dinner service on Thursdays, the staff transforms the space (by swiveling the seats forward and pulling down a projector) into a theater that shows short art films like To Live in June With Your Tongue Hanging Out, a video essay about poetry and politics in Cuba.

The Most Decrepit Seats in Town Have (at Long Last) Been Subbed Out

An anatomy of the carefully considered replacements at the Quad and Film Forum. 

Quad Cinema

The Quad Cinema (34 W. 13th St.) — New York’s very first multiplex — recently reopened after a two-year renovation, with 4K digital projectors and 3-D projection.

Photo: Skeie Seating

​The Design
The chairs hit that sweet spot between leather recliners and basic folding seats. They only recline slightly (they’re technically non-reclining, according to Wells — but have “just enough give to let you sink back and get drawn into what you’re watching”).

​The Material
They’re covered in Advantage fabric from Camira — a heavy-duty plain-weave wool-and-viscose blend — that can be cleaned with a lint roller and vacuum.

The Manufacturer ​
The previous seats, according to programmer C. Mason Wells, were “40 years old, stained, falling apart, tiny, and disgusting.” They were replaced with seats from a Norwegian company called Skeie and picked out by the theater’s owner, real-estate mogul Charles Cohen, who first saw them at Picturehouse, a cinema chain in the U.K.

The Bona Fides​
Skeie’s seats are used in movie theaters all over the world — even in a planetarium in Malta. 

Film Forum

In August, Film Forum (209 W. Houston St.) reopened after a $5 million renovation.

Photo: Figueras

The Design ​
The chairs have ergonomically shaped seats and backs; they’re firm (longtime director Karen Cooper didn’t want recliners that would put viewers to sleep) but still comfy — each is upholstered with foam.

The Material ​
T​he backrests and seats are covered in comfortable yet fully wipe-down-able vinyl, which means they can be easily cleaned — unlike, say, velvet.

​The Features ​
They are designed to fold so quietly that taking a quick bathroom break won’t create an ear-piercing squeak.

The Manufacturer ​
The seats, which were picked for their similarity to the chairs at Sony’s screening room on Madison Avenue, are made by Barcelona-based design firm Figueras and are higher and wider than their predecessors.

“It Was Like Being Chased by a Homicidal Nun.”

In September, ScreenX — a 270-degree panoramic theater experience — debuted in New York at Regal Union Square Stadium 14. Here, an explainer by film critic Kristy Puchko, who attended the first ScreenX viewing in New York, which was a showing of The Nun.

Photo: Kyle Hilton

“ScreenX is supposed to be this super-cinematic, immersive way of watching a movie. I found out exactly what that meant when I got to the screening: Basically, it’s a theater with three screens instead of one. There’s the normal one in the front plus one on each side wall. Immediately after the movie started, I realized there was a problem with retrofitting ScreenX to a preexisting theater. There are things on the walls, behind the screen — like emergency-exit signs — that interrupt your experience. But still, even with those things that snagged my eye, it did enhance the scariness of The Nun in parts. There was this scene where a local villager guy is running around in the woods with some ominous nun chasing him. While that’s happening, the side walls suddenly were filled with this footage of the forest. And suddenly, yeah — I sort of felt like I too was in the forest, being chased by a homicidal nun.”

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and ScreenX

And Why Has No One Replaced This Gem on Canal Street?

Photo: Matt Lambros/After the Final Curtain/Copyright: Matt Lambros 2012 All Rights Reserved

There have been efforts over the years to revive the particularly beautiful downtown Loew’s, which has stood empty since it closed in the ’50s. The owner, Thomas Sung — the founder of Chinatown’s Abacus Federal Savings Bank — explains:

Photo: Jannis Werner/Alamy Stock Photo

“I bought the building, which was built in 1926 by the famous theater architect Thomas Lamb, in the ’70s, some two decades after the theater itself closed. Developers have tried to buy it from me over the years so they could tear it down. But I don’t need the money, so I’ve held on to it. The main reason we haven’t made much progress is that my bank was indicted on charges of fraud back in 2012 — we were the only U.S. bank prosecuted in relation to the 2008 financial crisis. We were exonerated in 2015, but we spent a long time fighting that senseless case. In 2010, CREATE (the Committee to Revitalize and Enrich the Arts and Tomorrow’s Economy) tried to work with us to turn it into a downtown Lincoln Center. But I doubted the economic feasibility of their plan. Now we are considering dividing the space into several theaters and renting part of it to a theater like the Metrograph. I have a moral obligation not to destroy the space — to do something meaningful with it.”

*This article appears in the December 10, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Your Guide to the Golden Age of Movie Theaters