As you kick back on the couch and switch on Netflix, take a moment to think about the fact that you’re living in the film capital of the world. Sure, you could just binge on another 10 hour Law and Order: SVUmarathon. Or, you could watch a classic film in an ornate, historic cinema.
TV is great, but there are some pleasures that you can only get in a dark room with a bunch of strangers. From a casual movie date to an obscure arthouse adventure, here are the best movie theaters in Los Angeles.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Good for: Action blockbusters
Action movies are all about eardrum-bursting surround sound and epilepsy-inducing edits. There’s no point watching one on Netflix, you’ll only get distracted by the plot. Instead, next time a blockbuster catches your eye, make the trip to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Despite being a historic landmark, they’ve managed to wedge a giant IMAX screen inside—the third largest in the world. It can get a little touristy down here (dozens of films have premiered here, and dozens of stars have left hand and shoe prints in the courtyard), but if you want a truly face-melting cinema experience, it’s worth braving the crowds.
Vista Theater / Los Feliz 3
Good for: Movie date
You may have noticed these two tiny historic cinemas if you’ve driven through Los Feliz. The Vista is on Sunset, while the Los Feliz 3 is right on Vermont, between Skylight books and Fred 62. If you’re over the cold, impersonal vibe of the multiplexes, the charming 30s décor and intimate screens will get you excited about going to the movies again. Both cinemas are perfect for a movie date, with bars, cafes, and restaurants in walking distance.
Good for: People who love Quentin Tarantino & 35mm double features
Tarantino bought this cinema back in 2007 and transformed it into a film nerd’s paradise. The focus is on grindhouse, indie, and arthouse films screened in their original formats (most cinemas these days are digital only). You won’t find the latest mainstream Hollywood releases here, but you will find plenty of vintage sleaze, exotic sci-fi, and forgotten classics that are a hell of a lot of fun.
Echo Park Film Center
Good for: Underground cinema, up-and-coming talent
This tiny shop front in Echo Park looks unassuming, but step inside and there’s a buzzing non-profit that operates a micro-cinema, film school, and film studio out of a few charmingly cluttered rooms. EPFC’s focus is on emerging and underground filmmakers, so if you want to get in early on the next big thing in Hollywood, here’s the place to do it. The eclectic program covers local history, politics, short films, video art, foreign cinema, and the occasional performance.
Good for: When Grauman’s Chinese Theater is too busy
Before I went here, I thought that they actually projected the film onto the “dome.” They don’t. If you were wondering about that, well I’ve saved you the trip. The screen is huge, and there is a lot of history here, but, honestly, the viewing experience is not quite as good as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. That said, if you’re looking to avoid the chaos of Hollywood Boulevard on the weekend, then this is the place to see the latest blockbuster.
Good for: Old-school classics on 35mm
This is it—the Mecca (or whatever the ancient Egyptian equivalent of Mecca is) for LA film buffs. Now run by the American Cinematheque, this historic faux-Egyptian temple (complete with hieroglyphics) is the place to see Hollywood classics in all their original 35mm glory. Make sure you check the program, as screenings are often accompanied by Q&A sessions with actors, directors, and screenwriters.
Good for: Old-school classics on 35mm
Originally built by the founder of Douglas Aircraft Co. so that his employees could watch movies at any time of the day, this historic single-screen theater is now also run by the American Cinematheque. The program is similar to the Egyptian, with Hollywood classics, foreign and arthouse fare.
Good for: Freaky cult films & late-night thrills
If you’re a creature of the night and enjoy things like Czech surrealism, Jesus biker movies, or exploding heads, then you should probably check out Cinefamily. As well as uncovering and restoring cult oddities, Cinefamily also runs regular programs on auteurs like Almovodar, Godard, and Akerman. The small venue and can sell out quickly. Get in early so you can grab a comfy spot on the couch.
Good for: Obscure oddities & adventures
This amazing historic landmark (built in 1915) was bought and restored by a local artist and now runs an eclectic program of arthouse films, documentaries, video art, performances, and lectures. If you visit, make sure you check out the spooky historical panorama painting upstairs.
Fox Village Theater
Good for: Film history buffs
Generally, the Fox Theater only has one screen operating nowadays, but up until the end of the 80s, this is where a lot of Hollywood premieres would happen—everything from The Adventures of Casanova to The Terminator. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth dropping by to catch a movie and check out the historic architecture, including the iconic tower.