Portland's got a lot of great spots to watch Hollywood movies at a discount. Last week, we visited 10 of them, and learned that the Academy and Laurelhurst were the best spots for watching mainstream films at massive discounts.
This week, we go deeper.
Portland has a thriving scene of theaters whose programming is dedicated to new indies off the festival circuit, rare repertory flicks and tiny productions from local filmmakers. We visited nine of them—including one in Vancouver—and ranked them on a scale of one to 100 based on the criteria you'll see below. Here are the best spots in Portland to catch movies you won't even be able to watch at the Lloyd Center.
How We Scored Each Theater
Programming: 30 points. If I'm going to an arthouse theater I don't want to watch some dumb middlebrow bullshit.
Value: 20 pts. This economy is going to collapse any day now, so the difference between a $4 and $7 ticket is a big deal.
Beer: 10 points. Points are awarded both on the range and quality of the taps, plus the overall freshness of the IPA.
Popcorn: 10 points. We're looking for freshness and variety of accoutrements, so your vegan friend who won't shut the fuck up about nutritional yeast has something to be excited about.
Other Snacks: 10 points. Popcorn is classic, but pizza, burgers and weird sodas also rule.
Seating: 10 points. Hard to enjoy a movie if your ass hurts!
Location: 10 points. You're probably going to want to do something before or after the movie gets out. The more cool shit around your theater, the better.
4122 NE Sandy Blvd., hollywoodtheatre.org, 503-493-1128.
The only fault one can readily find in this crown jewel of Portland's arthouse scene is its popularity, which leads to oppressively long lines at the snack bar before screenings. Luckily, there's another one upstairs offering a slightly diminished selection of Hollywood's absurdly cheap $4 craft drafts, though the super-fresh pFriem IPA and an impressive selection of snacks, which includes piping hot popcorn, Salt & Straw ice cream and slices from nearby Atomic Pizza, is only available downstairs. Seating includes tables for snack storage, durable multiplex seats and impressive panoramic views that only leave the very front row wishing they'd shown up earlier. Programming is arguably the best in the city, with directors appearances at classics, first runs of film festival favorites and a highly coveted 70mm projection system, one of a couple dozen in the country. Hell, even the Dandy Warhols have been known to play a show here on occasion. Hollywood isn't the coolest neighborhood on the east side, but you won't have any trouble finding somewhere to grab a bite or a beer within a block of where you parked your car. Does it get more classic Portland than enjoying a flight of tasters of beer served on a plastic skateboard at a bike shop before seeing a weird foreign horror film everyone is raving about? We think not.
2522 SE Clinton St., cstpdx.com, 503-238-5588.
Punk shows, KBOO benefits, foreign art films and the world record for the longest running weekly screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show are equally at home at the Clinton, lending a scrappy DIY feel to this kinda divey neighborhood theater that serves as the anchor for the corner of Southeast Clinton and 26th Avenue. Seating is a bit squeaky and worn out, but most adults who've spent $7 on a ticket for a movie about the Ayahuasca rituals of the Amazon can be trusted to sit still and remain quiet. And for cinephiles down on their luck, the theater maintains a "pay what you can" policy for those who can't afford suggested ticket prices. The lack of draft beer is a notable setback, but $5 tall cans of Hopworks IPA and lager are a decent enough value and a much more favorable alternative to the usual suspects like Basecamp or Alameda. The popcorn ($3 for a small) was fresh, fluffy and loaded with lipsmacking clumps of salt. Stop by La Moule for a burger or Dots Cafe for a rousing conversation about condos and you've got yourself a pretty excellent night out in the Division St. area.
Though Cinema 21 doesn't carry itself with the pizzaz of other major Portland indies, it is as important to the fabric of Portland cinema—Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy and Jean-Marc Vallée's adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's Wild had their Portland premieres here—as any other cinema. Smack dab in the middle of Northwest 21st, Tom Ranieri's theater keeps to a simple formula of celebrated indies (Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion, Julia Ducournau's Raw) and gently artsy Hollywood flicks (Alien: Covenant) with the occasional foray into repertory, like Tarkovsky's monumental sci-fi Stalker. In 2014, the theater raised over $70,000 to renovate the ancient seating in their one theater, meaning seats are comfy enough for a cat nap after a bag of fresh popcorn ($3.50, an actually big small) topped with nutritional yeast and fresh butter, or nab pizza fixins for slices from nearby Escape From New York ($4.95).
1945 SE Water Ave., omsi.edu/theater, 503-797-4000.
OMSI's Empirical Theater is an awesome place to catch one of the many 3D-enhanced documentaries that screen earlier in the day, but the severe slant of its arena seating feels too close to the vertigo-inducing cheap seats at the Moda Center for comfort. The snack bar serves as the de facto cafe for all of OMSI, which means everything from hot dogs to Ruby Jewel ice cream is on offer, but the popcorn was old by a 5:30 showing of Boss Baby and the beer situation relegated to a bizarre assortment of loose bottles that Ninkasi Total Domination was the best of. Being at OMSI is cool if you've got kiddos in tow, but there's not much else happening within the immediate vicinity besides Noraneko and the corner with Bunk Bar and Boke a few blocks down from that. Still, it's a great way to cool off in the dark and zone out to the one blockbuster they devote screen time to if you've been roasting in the sun on the boat dock all afternoon.
510 SW Hall St., 5thavecinema.com, 503-725-3551. Open weekends.
Portland State's student-run theater was opened in 1970 as the Cini-Mini Theater, an arthouse "fuck you" from Larry Moyer to his brother Tom Moyer, mainstream Portland movie theater magnate and, later, Portland property magnate. Almost 50 years later, the college-aged programmers behind this movie theater-turned lecture hall-turned repertory theater maintain the same attitude. You're not likely to catch crowd-favorite classics, but a mix of underappreciated Hollywood flicks like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, cult bombs like Ishtar and perhaps Portland's most consistent commitment to queer cinema through films like Derek Jarman's Blue and Charles Atlas' Hail the New Puritan. Even better, tickets are free for PSU students and a mere $5 for general admission, with free bags of popcorn and a (beer free) concession bar featuring classic movie candy and La Croix for $1. The 5th Avenue isn't Portland's biggest theater, but it's among it's most underappreciated.
McMenamins Mission Theater & Pub
1624 NW Glisan St., mcmenamins.com, 503-223-4527.
You're going to be a little hard-pressed to saunter on into any old movie at the Mission. First, because the theater and live music venue only screens a couple of films a week ($4, $2 matinees), mostly well-worn crowd-pleasers like Reservoir Dogs or The Fifth Element among an extra McMenamins-y program of Timbers games, trivia nights and jug-and-washboard folk bands. Second, because the theater is in a weird corner of Slabtown that's somehow far away from everything. But by golly if they don't make the best of it. My pint of Win the Day IPA from one of 13 taps was fresh and malty, a great foil to generously buttered popcorn. Enjoy your film on the balcony, where the chairs are soft and spacious and there's plenty of space for food from a menu of pizzas ($20-$23.50) and salads.
1219 SW Park Ave., nwfilm.org/calendar, 503-894-7557.
Since 1971, the cinema arm of the Portland Art Museum has been bringing pure, uncut film-nerd films to Portland. The NWFC's regular, lengthy programs include career-spanning retrospectives of auteurs like David Lynch and Chantal Akerman, deep thematic dives, such as their recent foray into African-American cinema, regular screenings of Criterion Collection favs and films from future legends like Andrea Arnold, plus screenings of new works from Portland and PNW indie and experimental filmmakers. However, the Whitsell is an auditorium, not a theater. Nary a snack is allowed inside and the filmgoing experience isn't dissimilar to watching a movie inside of a NPR tote bag. You're going to watch some excellent flicks, most on film, but eat in nearby downtown before the show.
341 SW 10th Ave., pdx.livingroomtheaters.com, 971-222-2010.
The hardest part about watching a movie at Living Room Theaters is watching a movie at Living Room Theaters. First, buy your ticket ($10, minors not permitted after 7 pm), but if you arrive less than 15 minutes before the show, you might struggle to get a seat in one of their small theaters. Then, get your snacks from an upscale menu of panini, salad and personal pizza, which, if you're lucky, they won't forget to bring you. My Alternator IPA from Alameda Brewing was fresh from an above-average beer list sporting beverages from the Commons and pFriem, but my room-temperature, undersalted popcorn couldn't be saved by a sprucing up from a selection of seasonings like butter or furikake. If you love following rules and wish to watch Alien: Covenant, Snatched or middlebrow film fest fodder like The Lovers at a slight discount from the nearby Regal Fox Tower, you've come to the right place.
1011 Main St., Vancouver, WA, kigginstheatre.com, 360-816-0352.
If it weren't for an ambitious roster of programming and its proximity to Trusty Brewing, the oh-so- pleasant home of WWs pick for best IPA in The 'Couve, the Kiggins would be best relegated to a porn theater and forgotten. It's a lovely space with ample legroom and chairs that tilt back at a funny angle, but the pricing on everything is an average of $2 more than any reasonable person would expect to pay in Portland proper, let alone a bedroom community in Washington that throws sales tax on top of the $7 they charge for stale pints of Brother Ass Particularity IPA and the $5 for a small dose of mealy, half-popped popcorn.