Austin has movie multiplexes, sure, same as any city, but it also boasts more unique opportunities to get your cinema on – in historic settings, with starry special guests, or just under the stars.
Founded in Austin in 1997 by Tim and Karrie League, the Alamo Drafthouse has grown into a national chain without ever losing sight of its central mission: to present a truly kickass moviegoing experience. This is the home of “don’t talk, don’t text” (the Drafthouse’s PSAs are legendary), but that doesn’t mean this is a no-fun zone: The Alamo’s programmers are always cooking up inventive events, including sing-alongs, themed feasts, movie marathons, and filmmaker Q&As.[image-2-right]
There are now five Alamo locations in Austin, and they all offer in-theatre dining, brought to you by the Alamo’s storied ninja servers; most locations also have an attached bar.
The Alamo South Lamar (1120 S. Lamar) is not the original Alamo Drafthouse (that honor goes to the now-lost site on Colorado) but it’s known as the mothership for a reason. World famous as the home of Fantastic Fest, its nine screens hold a total of 975 guests. You’ll want to take a snap in the lobby with the Shining-themed tricycle. Next door is the full-service Highball Bar, featuring a live music stage and seven bizarrely (awesomely) themed karaoke rooms. Plus, every September it's the site of Fantastic Fest, the celebration of genre that has helped launch the careers of dozens of filmmakers, and hosted early screenings for movies as diverse as Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, Rian Johnson's Knives Out, and Scott Derrickson's The Black Phone.
Point in pretty much any direction and you’ll find another Drafthouse: the Alamo Village (2700 W. Anderson) is the oldest surviving location in the franchise's history, and remains a beloved community institution for north central Austin. Now it's got a younger sibling at Alamo Mueller, the first Austin Drafthouse east of I-35. (Pro tip: If you're traveling with kids, this one's made for you: During the day there's a kid-friendly playroom called Barrel o' Fun – at night it turns into Bar o' Fun for those of us who are just kids at heart – and it's an easy walk to the nearby Austin's children's museum the Thinkery and a park playground.)
If you're in commuterville outside of the city center, don't worry. For film fans living north, there's the Alamo Lakeline (14028 U.S. Hwy. 183 N.) in far North Austin, Alamo Slaughter (5701 W. Slaughter) in Southwest Austin. And don't worry about missing out on a film because of geography: the two cinemas usually provide the same programming, to cut your journey time and maximize your screen time.
The grande dame of Austin theatres, the Paramount (713 Congress) celebrated her centennial in 2015 by installing a re-creation of the original light blade, a fitting beacon for this opulent but unpretentious soul of Austin arts. Somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 artists have performed here, including Harry Houdini spitting needles in 1916. The palatial décor encases a surprisingly intimate 1,300-seat venue that plays host to marquee film premieres during South by Southwest and the Austin Film Festival, as well as the long-running and much-loved classic film series in the summer.
The Paramount's little sibling Stateside (719 Congress) opened in 1935 for productions not quite large enough for the big room next door. It still fulfills that role, hosting screenings around the year but most especially during SXSW and ATX Television Festival.
Owned and operated by the Austin Film Society, AFS Cinema (6226 Middle Fiskville) opened in spring of 2017 following an extensive renovation. Features include two screens, a bar and lounge, event hall, and vintage posters from the collection of AFS Founder and Artistic Director Richard Linklater – and, of course, the standout programming of arthouse, world, and classic cinema we’ve come to love. A cinephile's haven, you'll find your people in the lobby post-screening, eager to gab over the newest Koreeda film that just knocked your socks off.
The flagship in a growing national chain, the Violet Crown (434 W. Second) offers a sophisticated way to take in first-run arthouse and foreign film fare right smack in Downtown’s bustling Warehouse District. Order food and cocktails out front and either eat them in the welcoming bar/cafe or take them into one of four cozy theatres to enjoy with the movie. Seats are reserved; buy tickets early if you want to claim one of the front row’s cushy recliners.
After spending an afternoon wandering the three floors of the Bullock (1800 Congress), located across the street from the University of Texas campus, there’s nothing better than sinking into a seat in its IMAX theatre – the largest IMAX screen in the state, presenting both first-run features and IMAX documentaries. Want to know the story behind the shipwrecked 17th century La Belle, the hull of which takes up a sizable chunk of real estate on the Bullock’s first floor? The short film “Shipwrecked” shows daily on the Bullock’s second, more intimate on-site screen at the Texas Spirit Theater.
This retro favorite has been around since 2010, championing the in-car viewing experience and growing from one small parking lot in East Austin to over a dozen screens around town. Screening a mix of new and classic/cult movies, Blue Starlite has gone where the people want them, and that includes Austin's first al fresco downtown movie experience, with the three screen Downtown ATX Skyline Drive-In (300 San Antonio), presented with the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation. Home base remains the Mueller (2015 EM Franklin), with three drive-in screens, two for pedestrians, plus three mini screens for private experiences. Plus, if you're wanting something more intimate, enjoy dinner and a movie at the Starbite Back Yard Cinema (1807 EM Franklin). Tickets for all locations at bluestarlitedrivein.com.
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