One of my favorite things as a kid was when my grandmother would take my sister and me or me and one of my friends to see a movie at the old Movie 6 in my hometown. The theater had been around for good 30 years and was even where my parents went on their first date to see the disaster movie Earthquake (hey, it won an Oscar!), but after the new mall opened with a 12 screen multiplex Movie 6 became second fiddle in town.
The best thing I remember about Movie 6 is that they always played movies after they had left the big move theater and the tickets were $2. Seriously. $2. And that was in the late 90s when typical movies were still at a relatively reasonable $6.50 for adults. Movie 6 is definitely where I would've taken my dates if it wasn't shut down by the time I was in high school and driving. And therein lies the problem. It was shut down.
Movies are becoming more and more expensive to make. This means studios have to make more money on each film to try and at least break even if not make a profit, and that in turn is passed along to the movie theaters who have to raise prices so they can stay afloat. It's difficult for the little theaters to get by on $2 or $4 tickets and no one wants to pay $11 to sit in a rundown theater that has gum on the seats from the 70s. So does this leave us at the mercy of the megaplexes with their ever increasing ticket and concessions prices?
Yes. And No.
While many smaller towns lack the public interest or persons with resources (sorry Salisbury, MD and Hastings, NE) to open and run smaller "niche" theaters, there is hope in places like Richmond, VA and Washington, DC.
Richmond sports the amazing Byrd Theatre, which has been maintained in its original styling from its 1928 opening. Plush seats, deatiled interior architecture, a functioning organ, and an actual curtain that is pulled back before the start of each movie makes the theatre seem more like an opera house than a place to watch 300. The Byrd plays second-run movies (Inception is currently on their docket) as well as special features (like documentaries that don't make it to "big" theaters) and throwback nights with movies like Back to the Future, The Phantom of the Opera (1925), and The Princess Bride. General features only cost $1.99. Awesome.
DC sports the Arlington Cinema and Draft House with its second-run movies (these are the ones that just left the main theaters but aren't quite out on DVD or on-demand) for $1 on Mondays with prices increasing by a buck each night until the weekend. Instead of the usual theater seating, ACDH (I just made up that acronym but feel free to use it) has table and bar (facing the screen of course) seating. They also serve you food and beer from a full menu before and during the movie.
I also recently discovered that West End Cinema is opening next Friday (10/29) in, well, the West End of DC (between Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle metro stations). While this is not a second-run theater like the Byrd or ACDH, West End Cinema will play films that don't make it to a theater near you (see what I did there?). It's a more "refined" and "intellectually-minded" theater that will serve "beer wine and gourmet nibbles as well as the usual popcorn, candy and soda" and is "fashioned more along the lines of the cinematheques of Europe." Although it boasts the ability to hold teleconferences and show non-film performance like an "opera simulcast," I'm more excited to see the likes of Howl, which as far as I know never made it to a mainstream theater.
While several larger cities like New York City may be the best places for the small theater and the opening of West End Cinema and their reasonable success (they're still open, so count your blessings) of the Byrd and ACDH is promising, there are still far too few independent and price/experience minded cinemas out there. But as the expense of blockbuster studio movies continue to grow, so does the popularity of independent films. If we are lucky, then the smart curious populations of every town in America will show entrepreneurs that the market does exist for more of these types of cinemas in a town near you.