Posted on: December 15, 2022
By: Alan O'Neill
Posted in: Houston TX, Local News, Press Releases
Streaming’s great, but here are the places we like to go in the Houston area when we want to see a film on the big screen.
Three high-profile films this season — “The Fabelmans,” “Empire of Light” and “Babylon” — are set in the world of making or watching movies. Each, in its own way, is a salute to sitting in the dark with a crowd, mesmerized by sound, light and story.
Of course, the romance of that shared space has dimmed in recent years, thanks to streaming, COVID and the nation’s irresistible urge to text in public places. But movie theaters slowly have been clawing back their audiences since the depths of the pandemic and have done especially well with the likes of such blockbusters as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Even Amazon is getting into the theater game with a brick-and-mortar venue in Los Angeles.
So, as “Avatar: The Way of Water” makes its big splash this week and the holiday season is underway, many people are going to be heading to the theaters. With that in mind, we have compiled our favorite places in the Houston area — that don’t involve living rooms, pajamas or pressing pause — to see a commercially released film. The criteria were pretty basic — programming, projection, comfort, food options (if any), price, staff, parking — the things most audiences care about when seeing a movie. Note that admission prices are subject to change. Here are the top 12:
The exterior of Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra in Katy.
Melissa Phillip/Staff Photographer
The Austin-based chain’s only Houston-area location, which opened in 2018, ranks high in all categories, even attracting customers from across the region who don’t live anywhere near it. The eight-screen venue with a generally knowledgeable staff programs mainstream hits but also peppers the schedule with classics, cult favorites and indie films — such as Owen Kline’s “Funny Pages,” the horror thriller “Hypochondriac,” or “Her Smell” starring Elisabeth Moss — that aren’t screening elsewhere. Then there’s the generally knowledgeable staff, not to mention there are always events like a “Little Women” brunch or an “Elf” movie party and late-night horror films under the “Graveyard Shift” banner. If Alamo Drafthouse didn’t exist in Houston, someone would have to invent it.
Atmosphere: The retro videos and vintage commercials that play before the films set Alamo’s cheeky tone. But don’t mistake it for laxness. Alamo is known for its strict “no talking/no texting” rules. Also, those who show up late won’t be allowed to enter the auditorium after the movie has started. According to the website, if you are late “we will happily exchange your ticket for a different showtime or for a raincheck to a future show.” On the technical side, all auditoriums feature Sony 4K digital projection.
Food: There’s a Western-themed bar off the lobby. The dine-in choices — from vegan buffalo cauliflower ($11) and the Alamo Bowl (a Southwest version of a Buddha Bowl, $14) to a choice of cauliflower crust on all pizzas like the tomato basil ($13) — are more varied than some of their competitors, especially for those wanting vegan or gluten-free options. And the servers are generally as quiet and unobtrusive as possible under the circumstances.
Address: 2707 Commercial Center, Suite K-100, Katy.
Entering the Lynn Wyatt Theater at MFAH
Raquel Natalicchio/Staff photographer
With the opening of the sleek Lynn Wyatt Theater in the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building at the end of 2021, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston became the home to two of the area’s prime showcases for foreign, art, independent and classic films. The older Brown Auditorium Theater had been shouldering that responsibility for years, especially after the River Oaks Theatre shuttered in March 2021. Now, the two MFAH theaters make for a matched set of cinematic treasures. They show films — whether it’s the local debuts of Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s acclaimed “Drive My Car” and Laura Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” or serving as the primary location for the annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival — that may not show anywhere else.
Atmosphere: Audiences tend to be knowledgeable and respectful. Both the Brown and the Lynn Wyatt have the capability of projecting 35mm film, the only theaters in the area with this capacity. The one drawback is that the wooden steps at the Wyatt will loudly announce your entrance if you arrive in the quiet, darkened auditorium late.
Food: None. You’d better eat before you get there.
Parking: $10 (lot); free street parking
Address: 1001 Bissonnet (Brown Auditorium Theater); 5500 Main (Lynn Wyatt Theater), Houston.
Rice University’s Sewall Hall is the temporary home of Rice Cinema
This showcase for independent and classic films is in the midst of a transition. After having to move out of Rice Media Center, it’s now housed in a temporary location in Rice University’s Sewall Hall while waiting for a move to new and more permanent digs in 2025. So, for now, the feeling is of being in a classroom as much as a theater. You half-expect to be asked to take a pop quiz. But the programming is far more interesting than that. From hosting an area premiere of “Tár” to showings of critically loved films like “Another Round,” “Riders of Justice” and Houston director Jenny Waldo’s “Acid Test,” Rice Cinema is a valuable addition to the movie-going landscape. One downside is that its schedule mirrors the school year, meaning it’s closed through the holidays until mid-January.
Atmosphere: Collegiate casual.
Projection at Rice Cinema in Houston
Address: 6100 Main, Houston.
14 Pews theater in Houston
Houston filmmaker Cressandra Thibodeaux has been operating what has to be the city’s most unique movie space since 2010. Housed in a former church — hence the name — 14 Pews doesn’t feel anything like a traditional movie theater. Sitting upright in a pew is the exact opposite of the recline ‘n’ dine ethos of the newest, fanciest multiplexes. The programming is also unique, ranging from the Bechdel Film Festival featuring films from female, trans and non-binary directors, to the Cat Video Festival and such non-mainstream movies as Australia’s “Bouyancy” and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 1997 Japanese film “Cure.” It’s also a space for events beyond films, like the screenwriting workshop taking place next month.
Atmosphere: Appropriately reverential
Food: Concession basics like popcorn, though it’s Skinny Pop.
14 Pews theater, a little church turned into cinematic haven on the furthest northern reaches of The Heights neighborhood in Houston.
Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer
Admission: $10 online, $15 at the door
Parking: Free street parking
Address: 800 Aurora, Houston
Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas in the Woodlands
The Woodlands/Tomball area is lucky to have this compact, well-appointed, 11-screen multiplex, one of just three Texas locations for the chain originally from Morelia, Mexico. (The other locations are in downtown Dallas and Euless though Cinépolis also owns Moviehouse & Eatery, which has locations all over North Texas and Austin). The programming is mostly mainstream Hollywood with occasional forays into South Asian cinema or films bound for streaming, like “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” or “Ammonite” with Saiorse Ronan, that get a limited theatrical run before making their debuts on Netflix or Prime Video.
Atmosphere: Homey with a friendly bar that has a “where everybody knows your name” vibe. It turned out to be a pretty good spot to catch the World Series.
The lobster grilled cheese sandwich at the Cinepolis Luxury Cinema in The Woodlands
Courtesy Cinepolis Luxury Cinema
Food: Three words: lobster grilled cheese ($16.50). Of all the movie theater menus, the one at Cinépolis may be the most foodie forward as it features lobster tacos ($16), hummus toast ($13.50), poke bowl ($16.50), shaved ribeye sandwich ($15.50) and a three-cheese mac made with cavatappi noodles tossed in a Boursin gournay cheese sauce, caramelized onions, green chile and bacon with a topping of garlic herb bread ($14.50).
Admission: $12.47-$13.50 (adults), $11.55-$12.50 (children 12 and under/seniors)
Address: 26543 Kuykendahl, Tomball
The main entrance exterior of the Regal Benders Landing multiplex theater in Spring. The renovated Regal MarqE in Houston will have a similar look.
If you want to see what the Regal Edwards Houston MarqE, currently undergoing massive renovations, is going to look like when it’s complete, check out the new Regal Benders Landing in Spring which opened in June 2021. The MarqE will be bringing the contemporary, upgraded big-box movie experience closer to the Loop, which has missed out on the evolution in theatrical exhibition that has been popping up all over the ‘burbs. With its variety of auditoriums (4DX, ScreenX, IMAX, RPX) and programming that can run from “Black Adam” to the David Bowie doc “Moonage Daydream”) and Asian films, as well as being a prime location in town for pre-release screenings of top movies, there’s a little something for everyone.
Atmosphere: A cross-section of Houston
The VIP area of the remodeled Regal MarqE movie theater in Houston
Food: The usual movie-theater fare. It remains to be seen what’s going to be offered when the renovations are done. Benders Landing opened with a smoothie and juice bar called B-Fresh, a Lavazza coffee stand and a full-service bar.
Admission: $13.25 (general adult); $10.60 (seniors), $10.06 (children); $27.05 (VIP with free popcorn and soft drink, access to private bar, more luxurious seats)
Address: 7600 Katy Freeway, Houston
Cinemark Memorial City in Houston
Of the old-school, non-specialty and non-dine-in theaters, Cinemark Memorial City remains a favorite on Houston’s west side for its relative ease of access and enough screens (16) to offer a wide range of programming. This theater has become one of the main spots for films from South Asia.
Atmosphere: It’s your basic multiplex but with some nice touches, like the colorful, mural-like art above the box-offices and the mall’s merry-go-round outside the front door, that give it a sense of whimsy separating it from the average multiplex.
Box office at Cinemark Memorial City
Food: The concession basics.
Parking: Free, but it’s at Memorial City Mall, so parking might be hard to find on weekends and during the holidays.
Address: 310 Memorial City, Houston
Reclining seats at Star Cinema Grill in Richmond.
Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer
The first time many Houston residents who live in the center of the city heard of Star Cinema Grill was when it was announced earlier this year that this Sugar Land-based chain had agreed to take over and re-open the shuttered River Oaks Theatre. But SCG already has several locations throughout the region, including Missouri City, Friendswood, Conroe, College Station, Cypress, Spring and Vintage Park. But it’s the Richmond location that has what Star Cinema Grill says is, at 46 feet wide, the world’s largest Onyx cinematic LED screen, which offers optimal color accuracy. It is the first Samsung Onyx p3.3 Cinema LED in the Western hemisphere and only the second in the world, according to the company. A recent showing of “Black Adam” seemed to back up the hype. No doubt, many are going to want to see the new “Avatar” here. SCG has also been open to screening Texas indie films, showcasing the Houston-shot “Playing God” and Isaiah Washington’s “Corsicana.”
Atmosphere: Typical sprawling multiplex with lots of families.
Cut! By Cinemark theater in Cypress
The North Texas-based Cinemark chain, which has big multiplexes throughout the state including a just-opened theater in Missouri City, wanted to get into the dine-in theater business and launched the CUT! brand in Frisco in 2019 and opened the eight-screen Cypress location in 2020. It feels more compact than the standard Cinemark, but the programming is similarly mainstream — though South Asian films are sometimes booked as well as specialty engagements such as “Live from the Artists Den: The Lumineers.” It is one of the handful of theaters locally screening “Emancipation,” starring Will Smith.
Atmosphere: The first things to notice when walking in are the large bar area, patio and the prominently visible pizza oven. Obviously, Cinemark wants to make this a place suitable for some serious adult down-time that has nothing to do with the movies. But once you are in the auditoriums, the heat-controlled, reclining seats and the menu continue the Mommy-and-Daddy-gotta-relax-too vibe.
Food: There are some interesting menu items, ranging from eloté pizza ($15), Korean barbecue chicken pizza ($16.50), truffle mac burger ($16), and Hawaiian Sunset salad ($16). The staff seems especially efficient, with a server bringing a second glass of water without it being requested.
Admission: $7-$10 for most films; evening tickets for “Avatar” in 3D are $14.75.
Address: 29030 Northwest Freeway, Cypress
High-rises provide the backdrop for watching a movie at Rooftop Cinema Club
Located on the rooftop of the BLVD Place development at Post Oak and San Felipe, Rooftop Cinema Club shows classic, well-known films for audiences who’ve largely seen these movies before and just want to hang out with friends while watching “The Wizard of Oz,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “Encanto” or “The Shining” for the millionth time. The seating is all lounge chairs, the mood is casual, and everyone is given their own headphones so people can come and go, talk or check their phones with little worry about angering their neighbors.
Atmosphere: Super casual, with games like Jenga on hand if you get bored with the movie.
Food: Basic concession fare is available, though you can also bring outside food in, for example, from the Whole Foods downstairs.
Admission: Varies depending on time of day. $17.50-$18.50 (lounge seat); $20.50-$21.50 (lounge seat + popcorn); $24.25-$25.25 (Adirondack chair + popcorn), $26.25-$27.25 (Adirondack seat + popcorn)
Address: 1700 Post Oak, Houston
Entrance to the iPic movie theater in Houston
This theater gives those inside the Loop a chance to have the dine-in theater experience. The programming is largely mainstream, though streamers like Netflix will use iPic as one of the places to debut films theatrically in Houston (i.e. “Hillbilly Elegy,” “MLK/FBI,” “The Prom”) before launching them on their platforms. The theater also shows a healthy number of indie films, such as “Farewell Amor,” “—-house,” “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “A Glitch in the Matrix.”
Atmosphere: With its love booth set-up in the premium-plus seats, the theater definitely has a date-night vibe. Standard, single seats are available, but you can’t order food from them. So you’ll have to rely on the traditional concession fare like candy and popcorn.
Art on the wall greets customers at the iPic Theater in Houston
Food: Nothing too remarkable, but there is a variety of pizzas ($16-$19), sandwiches ($15.50-$20) and main plates, including chicken and red velvet waffles ($18), from which to choose.
Admission: $19.75 (premium-plus adult), $11 (premium-plus child); $14 (standard seating); $10 (standard child)
Address: 4444 Westheimer, Houston (in River Oaks District)
Showbiz Cinemas Fall Creek in Humble has its own bowling lanes.
Doug Sweet Jr./Contributor
ShowBiz Cinemas, now operated by Austin’s EVO Entertainment, has something in two of its theaters you’re not going to find other multiplexes: a bowling alley. There’s also an arcade, so customers can scratch their various gaming urges. If the movies is not to your liking, maybe you’ll have better luck in the lanes. There’s a separate charge for the bowling alley.
Atmosphere: Very family-friendly.
ShowBiz Cinemas’ Fall Creek theater
Food: The usual concession suspects.
Admission: $9-$13 adults; $6.51-$9.50 children
Address: 4811 Canyon Lakes Trace, Humble; 10550 Interstate 10 Service Road, Baytown
Drive-ins helped film lovers immensely through the pandemic as pop-up drive-ins from the likes of Rooftop Cinema Club and Houston Museum of African American Culture helped satisfy the movie-going urge. But it’s the full-time drive-ins, such as Moonstruck in East Houston and The Showboat in Hockley, that really proved their worth.
N.T. Rama Rao Jr. in the film “RRR” (Rise Roar Revolt)
Until recently, movies from across Asia and the Middle East would open at a handful of area multiplexes. Then when one of these locations, AMC Studio 30, shuttered in 2020 at the start of the pandemic, it seemed as if fans of Asian cinema might go wanting. But just the opposite happened. Whether it’s due to competitors seeing a hole in the market or simply the increasing popularity of Asian cinema and TV in a post-“Parasite,” “Squid Game” and “RRR” world, the fact remains that some Asian films — especially those from South Asia — open on as many Houston screens as Hollywood releases.
The theaters where you can regularly find at least one but often more Asian films opening each week include the AMC stalwarts First Colony 24 (Sugar Land) and Loews Fountains 18 (Stafford) which, along with Studio 30, were the prime spots back in the day. Now, others in the AMC chain, such as Katy Mills 20 (Katy) and Gulf Pointe 30 (Houston) also showcase them. (For sheer size, the 30-screen Gulf Pointe, which includes IMAX, rules.
AMC has been joined by many in the Cinemark chain, such as the aforementioned Cinemark Memorial City, Cinemark Tinseltown 290, Cinemark 17 (The Woodlands), Cinemark 18 (Webster), Cinemark 19 (Katy) and the brand-new Cinemark Missouri City and XD. Regal’s not about to be left out and often screens Asian films atEdwards Houston MarqE (Houston), Regal Edwards Greenway Grand Palace (Houston), Benders Landing (Spring), Lone Star (Tomball) and Grand Parkway (Richmond).
Also worthy of mention is the Asia Society Texas Center with its Kung Fu Film Nights and other specialty programming.
The exterior of Studio Movie Grill in Tyler. The exterior and interior of the Pearland location mirrors the Tyler theater.
Studio Movie Grill
Houston has never had as many theatrical options for small-scale indie and art films as many other large cities, and the temporary closure of the three-screen River Oaks has exacerbated the problem. But, in addition to playing the MFAH, 14 Pews, Alamo Drafthouse and Rice Cinema, such titles sometimes will pop up with little fanfare at Regal Greenway Grand Palace, Regal MarqE, iPic and AMC Houston 8 (the only movie theater in downtown Houston). Meanwhile, America Cinemas Houston and Studio Movie Grill Pearland book a lot of smaller films as well — though, at times, they are of the low-budget Bruce Willis/Nicolas Cage/Mel Gibson action flick variety. It’s worth checking their lineups to see if there’s a movie from outside the Hollywood industrial complex — and that can include faith-based films or low-rent horror projects — that might be worth catching.
Attendees arrive to a premiere event at the DeLuxe Theater for Mo Amer’s ‘Mo,’ a semi-autobiographical show set in Houston
Coming (sort of) soon
But things might be improving over the next couple of years for fans of independent cinema. In addition to the new Rice Cinema coming in 2025, the 1939-built River Oaks, saved from a potential wrecking ball earlier this year by the Star Cinema Grill chain, is due to re-open in the next several months as a totally renovated space.
The recently renovated DeLuxe Theater in Fifth Ward has been utilized for special events, such as the annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival and a screening of the Houston-set Netflix series “Mo,” and it would be a boon to movie fans if it could be used more often.
See you at the movies.
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