10 of the world's most enjoyable movie theaters
The best movie theaters always make the movie better.
You could be watching the third re-run of your own birth, but if you're snuggled into a soft seat with buttery popcorn in your lap and a sound system that feels like its channeled directly into your temporal lobe, somehow you'll come out feeling like you had a good time.
For the global jet-setting movie junkie, these are some movie theaters that take a good experience and make it great.
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1. Cine Thisio, Athens, Greece
Athens is home to multiple outdoor movie theaters that crop up during the summer but none provide as majestic a view as Cine Thisio.
From your seat at Cine Thisio you not only get to view the latest blockbuster but also the Acropolis, and the Parthenon that sits on top. The best view is at night.
Cine Thisio is the oldest outdoor movie theater in Athens, built in 1935, and is usually open from April to October. Cine Thisio shows both first-run studio releases and classic movies.
Apostolou Pavlou 7, Thission, Athens 11851, Greece; +30 210 342 0864; www.cine-thisio.gr
2. Alamo Drafthouse, Texas, United States
It shouldn’t make sense that a movie theater chain has such street cred, but Alamo Drafthouse does. Think of it as the cool kid brother movie theater.
Alamo Drafthouse started out in Austin, Texas, and hosts a whole series of events including Heckle Vision, Quote Alongs and nights where experts rip apart Michael Bay popcorn blockbusters.
But what makes the Alamo theaters really cool are its policies: no children under the age of six, no talking, an extremely strict no-cellphone policy (as this curse-laden voicemail left by an unhappy customer demonstrates) and no ads before the movie.
This is a movie theater experience as it should be: the movie you pay for, zero annoyances and great food and beers being served to your seat.
1120 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas 78704, United States; +1 512 476 1320; www.drafthouse.com
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3. Raj Mandir Theatre, Jaipur, India
Come here for the ultimate Bollywood experience: the national anthem at the start, a choice of expensive and cheaper seats, the three-hour Hindi flick bisected with an interlude and applaud along with the locals whenever the hero shows up on screen.
With its pink Art Deco-inspired exterior made up of waves and asymmetrical shapes, the Raj Mandir is a symbol of Jaipur, a city laid out beautifully from its founding in the 18th century.
It opened in 1976, seats around 1,200 and usually fills up. With ticket prices around Rs100 (US$1.90), this won't be your most luxurious movie outing, but it will definitely rank among the most memorable.
Ashok Nagar, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; +91 141 260 5267
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4. Kino International, Berlin, Germany
A remnant of the Cold War, Kino International dates back to Germany's socialist period. Today Kino International boasts a well-rounded art-house program and hosts a strong list of premieres, festivals and parties.
The movie theater is situated along Karl Marx Allee, where entire blocks of buildings carry heritage status and are protected by the Denkmalschutz in Berlin.
This heritage status means that the outside façade of Kino International, along with its interior furnishings, cannot be altered.
33 Karl-Marx Allee, Berlin 10178, Germany; +49 030 24756011; www.kino-international.com
5. 4DX, Seoul, South Korea
4DX bills itself as the first 4-D movie theater in the world that screens studio releases, taking 3-D movies to the next level by introducing movement and scent, as well as wind and water effects.
Sitting through amusement park-type effects for such a long time may not be suitable for everyone, and people with heart disease, back pains, pregnant women and children under one meter are discouraged from entering.
4DX aims to “free” the moviegoer by connecting with the characters on screen, placing them into the shoes of the protagonist by feeling what he feels.
4DX theaters are now part of 14 CGV locations all over Korea. Tickets for the 4-D screenings start at ₩14,000 (US$12).
4DX CGV Theater in Gangbyeon; 10F TechnoMart, 546-4 Guui-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 광진구 구의동 546-4 테크노마트 10층); 1544-1122 (Domestic calls only); www.cgv.co.kr
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6. Uplink X, Tokyo, Japan
Uplink X calls itself the smallest movie theater in Japan, with 40 seats. It's housed in a multipurpose building managed by Uplink Co. alongside Uplink Factory, a multipurpose theater space and Uplink’s café Tabela.
Its standout feature is its "social seating" plan -- the 10 various types of seats are not screwed into the ground, but can be moved around within the space, making the movie-watching experience more interactive and social.
2F, 37-18 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0042, Japan; +81 3 3485 6821; www.uplink.co.jp
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7. Prasads, Hyderabad, India
You might mistake Prasads as just another entertainment complex in Hyderabad -- but take a look at its cinema screen; it's the largest IMAX 3-D screen in the world.
Measuring 72 x 92 feet, and running since 2003, it receives more than 1,500 calls a day to the telephone booking line.
Sydney may have the largest IMAX in the world at 97 x 117 feet, but throw in the 3-D technology and you get yourself on this list.
The biggest grossing films in IMAX 3-D for Prasads so far have been "Avatar," "The Polar Express" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1."
NTR Gardens, LIC Division P.O., Hyderabad 500063, India; +91 40 23448888; www.prasadz.com
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8. Cine de Chef, Seoul, South Korea
Korean movie theater company CGV claims another spot on this list with its Cine de Chef theater, which gives a luxury spin to the “dinner and a movie” concept.
Many other movie theaters also provide food and beverage options to moviegoers, but Cine de Chef stands out with its upscale French-Italian cuisine, courtesy of a former Park Hyatt chef.
After dinner, patrons can relax for the duration of the movie in the Quinette Gallay seats, specially designed for Cine de Chef. The seats are by the same people who make private movie theater seats for United Arab Emirates royalty.
This meal and a movie doesn’t come cheap, however; prices start at ₩38,000 (US$34) for a lunch and a movie ticket. The dinner prices start at ₩60,000 (US$53).
B5 CGV Apgujeong, 602 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 신사동 602 CGV압구정 지하5청); +82 2 3445 0541; www.cinedechef.com
9. Secret Cinema, Worldwide
This may be stretching the concept of the movie theater since Secret Cinema does not host events in a single physical space -- the location is determined by the movie screened.
Secret Cinema is a London-based group that organizes monthly movie events shrouded in mystery. Patrons are told not to reveal the location or even the movie screened.
Once you register, you are told the day of the screening to gather at a predetermined location. From there hired actors put on a live-action version of scenes from the movie before the finale, a theatrical showing of the movie itself.
Tickets from US$50; +44 0207 739 6055; www.secretcinema.org
10. The Castro Theatre, San Francisco, United States
The term “movie palace” was coined to describe the elaborately designed theaters that sprung up in the first half of the 20th century in the United States.
Opened in 1922, the Castro Theatre is one of the last vestiges of that bygone era still in operation. Its Mexican cathedral-inspired façade continues to captivate tourists and moviegoers.
With the decadence of its lobby and auditorium, and the attention to detail in the wet plaster motifs on either side of the screen, the Castro presents simply what new technologies are attempting to mimic -- the pleasure of the movie-watching experience.
429 Castro Street, San Francisco, California 94114, USA; +1 415 621 6120; www.castrotheatre.com
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First published February 2012, updated April 2013