The battle for the title of Denver’s biggest, most high-tech movie theater is always raging, egged on by every 3D, luxury-seat, cheese-fry advancement. As a top national exhibition market — according to chains such as Regal, AMC and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema — Denverites are usually the ones who benefit.
The rest of the country, for example, paused new movie-theater construction in 2019. But that same year, national exhibitors spent tens of millions of dollars on ground-up megaplexes and historic renovations in Denver. And yet, we’re not just looking for numbing sound and brightness and cocktails.
We want to run into old friends on summer nights outside historic art house theaters. We want weird, cult showings programmed by weird people. We want midnight revivals, celebrity pop-ins, costume contests and niche fests.
In short, we want a reason to leave the house. But last year, audiences strayed further away from theatrical experiences as compared with 2019 — save for the ballyhooed “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
What’s driving us away? Average movie ticket prices are way up, hitting a record $11 last year, according to IndieWire. AMC Theatres last week introduced tiered pricing to its ticket-buying system, which requires upcharges for better seats on top of any other costs. The Hollywood Reporter called it “a risky bet at a perilous time,” and like Red Rocks shows and Broadway tours, it’s further pushing megaplex movies toward an elite pastime.
At least if you don’t know where to look. Here’s a rundown of highlights at metro-area movie theaters near you that can fulfill all your cinema-going needs, whatever they may be. To see a list of favorite theaters from Denver arts and culture luminaries, see our sidebar. For more on the Denver movie scene, visit denverpost.com/things-to-do/movies.
DENVER’S PRETTIEST MOVIE THEATER
Most of the classic movie houses from the past century or so have shut down or transformed into music venues, but a few historic gems shine on, such as Landmark’s Esquire Theatre. The overall winner, however, is the lovingly preserved, Landmark-owned Mayan Theatre, which eschews bed-like seating and bowel-shaking speakers for intimate experiences in a trio of rooms (two small, one big). The 1930 building is one of only three theaters in the country flaunting the intricate, Art Deco Mayan Revival style, according to Landmark, and the rich, sophisticated atmosphere is unique in Colorado, and perhaps the region. 110 Broadway. landmarktheatres.com
DENVER’S COMFIEST MOVIE THEATER
By default, each new movie theater built these days is chasing trends like adjustable heated seats, full bars, and — as will soon be the case at all AMC Theatres — up-charging for better seats. Still, we haven’t found a more comfortable theater than AMC CO 9 + 10, which opened in March 2021, after waiting out the worst of the pandemic. The heated, touch-adjusted, spacious seating is a godsend for those three-hour Marvel slogs, but also taut, 90-minute dramas. And if you’re only going occasionally, the $20 ticket is more than worth it. 826 N. Albion St. amctheatres.com
It’s difficult to pick a No. 1 here, given the variety and ever-changing qualities of this vital ingredient of moviegoing. And yet, what’s so hard about popping a good bag of popcorn? Most chains, even fancy ones, tend to serve up tongue-scoring, overseasoned Styrofoam peanuts in place of the good stuff, even if some of us have become accustomed to fake butter and blasted taste buds (Harkins is an outlier with its consistently great popcorn). Still, we’re staking our claim on Landmark Theaters’ overall quality, particularly at the Mayan and Chez Artiste theaters. Fresh, toothsome and perfectly popped — the way it’s supposed to be — but also customizable for all your seasoning and saucing needs. Various locations. landmarktheatres.com
BEST BAR AND COCKTAILS
There are movie-theater bars, and there are movie-theater bars. The Sie FilmCenter’s 200-capacity Henderson-Withey Lounge is a true bar that just happens to sit inside a movie theater. It’s open but cozy, with areas to mill about, sit and jaw, or just sip and people-watch. And unlike most movie theater bars, save for the Alamo Sloans Lake’s Barfly, it’s a place you wouldn’t mind hanging out long after the screening has ended. Denver is often faulted by outsiders for lacking a film culture on par with bigger cities, but they’ve never spent an hour or two dropping eves here. 2510 E. Colfax Ave. denverfilm.org
BEST MENU AND SERVICE
The Austin, Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema once claimed a unique spot in movie-going, offering the first widespread and industry-scaled full service menu and drinks, all delivered to your TV-tray seat with servile quietude. Most chains and lots of indies have since followed suit, to varying degrees of success, but Alamo has kept it dialed-in. Not just in things like a kids menus or top-notch craft beers and cocktails, but the quality and variety of fresh and fried plates. Even if you’re not going to the movies just for the Brussels sprout pizza, a Cobb salad or an Irish coffee, you’ve at least got that option. Locations in Denver, Westminster and Sloans Lake. drafthouse.com/denver
Landmark’s Chez Artiste wins this one by a mile. Or rather, dozens upon dozens of free, convenient parking spaces. That’s because it’s tucked away in a strip mall off South Colorado Boulevard, but also island-like in its isolation from other businesses. Some chain exhibitors may offer that in their suburban shopping-mall sprawl, but you’re typically competing for spots shared by restaurants and retail shops. Sure, parking garages and short walks aren’t the end of the world. But it’s almost impossible to be late for a movie at this tidy art house. (Almost.)
The line between IMAX and other big screens is getting thinner, but it still exists — particularly when it comes to format and projection. There’s no better IMAX screen in Denver for first-run movies than the Regal UA Colorado Center, where Hollywood spectacles get their full due. Shorter, more educational, but just-as-gorgeous titles are also running at the Infinity Theater at Denver Museum of Nature & Science, which officially opened this month after quiet, public testing the last few weeks. regmovies.com or dmns.org/visit/infinity-theater.
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