Friday, April 3, 2009
The scoop on Dallas-area movie theaters
Think of the following as a basic guide designed to make your movie-going decision easier.
All right, so you need something to do that doesn’t cost a ton of money. It’s understandable; in between a bad economy and everything else we’re spending money on these days, it’s nice to get out and have an enjoyable experience. Now, going to the movies these days may not exactly be the cheapest outing out there, but compared to a concert or dinner at a 5-star restaurant, it’s definitely the way to go.
As a community we’re pretty lucky here to have a pretty large variety of movie theaters in the area, but if you’re new to the city it can be difficult to figure out which one will provide the best experience for you. Think of the following as a basic guide designed to make your decision easier; picking the right movie theater may not seem as important as eating at the right restaurant, but some theaters have advantages (and drawbacks) that are best to know about beforehand.
Pros: Old-fashioned feel, $6.00 student tickets, close to campus, a variety of snacks
Cons: Only shows a few new releases, seats aren’t extremely comfortable
Highland Park Village is a nice break from the conventional movie crowd. Since very few people are really even familiar with the theater, more often than not you’re able to buy tickets here without the risk of sellouts.
Out of all the theaters in the area, this is probably the best to visit with a couple of friends. It has a feel of a small-town theater, and with tickets $4.00 off the price at some of the other theaters, it’s a pretty easy money-saver especially if you take on the 20-minute walk from campus.
More than anything, Highland Park Village has a sort of personality you’re not going to find at some of the bigger theaters. It might not be perfect for a romantic date, but it’s a nice little getaway from the world.
Pros: Well-established chain, rewards program for people who buy a ton of tickets, very modern, comfortable seating, many screens
Cons: Higher ticket prices, expensive refreshments, technical lapses, unpredictable crowds, student prices only on Thursdays
Going to an AMC theater lacks some of the excitement of some of the other places in town, but generally it still delivers on its promise to provide a convenient film-going experience. You can buy tickets online, print them out at a kiosk, and enter your theater in a breeze.
The NorthPark and Valley View places are perfect if you’re doing some shopping as well, but otherwise I’d stay away. The services (and crowds) are typically worse at these two locations, and NorthPark inexplicably charges 50 cents more than any other theater in the chain.
The Mesquite location is a little out of the way, but it may be the best in terms of delivering a consistently good experience. At some of the other theaters (especially Valley View) I’ve witnessed a number of technical problems including broken sound during previews and an occasionally static picture. NorthPark is generally so crowded you almost have to buy online to get in a new release, and the large percentage of teenagers means more often than not you’re forced to deal with cell phone lights and conversation.
Pros: Great location, beautiful building, variety of snacks, shows independent film
Cons: Expensive, you often need a sweater in the theater
The Angelika is, along with Landmark Magnolia, one of the two best “date theaters” in the area. The place is clean, comfortable, and it’s located at nearby Mockingbird Station. The Mustang Express stops by less than 100 feet away during the week, and on a nice day it’s only a short walk from campus.
Both the café and the theater provide a variety of drinks (and snacks) that you’re not likely to find at any other theater. The downside? People who want to see the next Harry Potter will quickly realize that the Angelika only shows independent films. It can be a nice change, depending on how you look at it.
Just be sure to bring extra cash. While student tickets are only $6.50, the food (especially at the café) is pricier than you’d expect. If you do want to save some money, every Tuesday students receive free popcorn with unlimited refills. Not a bad deal for what is already one of the best theaters in all of Texas.
Pros: Nice selection of mainstream/indie films, great neighborhood, upscale refreshments, accessible by DART (take the train to Cityplace Station, exit to the right)
Cons: Bad parking, easy to get lost, smaller screens
The Magnolia’s very similar to the Angelika, except this theater will occasionally show a big-budget film such as Watchmen. The prices for students are $7.00, but considering the upscale West Village atmosphere that’s not so bad. It’s a great place to try out “dinner and a movie,” and there’s plenty of shopping venues while you wait for your film to start.
The only real issue for the SMU student is that it’s so much easier to get to the Angelika. West Village is a mess of one-way streets, and trying to find a place to park is a massive pain. The Magnolia’s best for a one-time experience to shake it up a little bit. It’s a great theater—probably the second-best in the city—but unless you’re down in that area it’s not the most convenient place to go.
Pros: Dinner and a movie! Plus there’s multiple locations and very comfy seating.
Cons: The food’s not all that good and it’s expensive, poor location
The best thing about Studio Movie Grill is that it’s a really fun thing to try out once. Having a meal served while you watch a movie is awesome…but there’s a ton of problems to go along with it.
For one thing, the food is about $3 more on average than you’d find at a casual dining place like Chili’s, and it’s not anywhere near as good. It’s a nice shakeup from popcorn, granted, but is it worth it? The other thing is that you have to deal with waiters bugging you throughout the movie, and really it takes away from what’s happening on the big screen. If there’s a problem along the way (they lost my debit card once, for example), it makes it even harder to do watch, eat, and deal with paying. This is not a place for multi-taskers.
If you really want dinner, I recommend going out to a restaurant first. You won’t be spending that much more and the food will be much tastier. This is a great idea in theory, but I’m not too fond of the execution.
Pros: Cheapest theater in the city for new releases…that’s about it
Cons: Poor location, older seats, staff members disrupting movies
You want to see a movie for $4.75? This is your place! While most theaters in the area give you seats for $5-6 before noon, Regal actually lets you see any movie from 4 until 6:00 for the cheapest price around. It’s a nice deal…provided you have a car and are willing to drive a little farther. (In reality, you probably don’t save much going here due to gas.)
Unfortunately, that’s just about the only advantage of this chain theater. The seats are older, the refreshments are so-so, and there’s a strange policy here that requires someone on staff to occasionally walk up and down the aisles with a bright orange stick. It’s distracting, and unless you’re searching for a cheap deal this isn’t your place.
Pros: IMAX theater, comfortable regular theaters, many 3-D screens
Cons: IMAX is pricey, no love for students, far away
Since the rest of the Cinemark/UA Theaters in the area are pretty generic, it’s best to save time and focus on this one. With the closest IMAX in the area, this is definitely the place to check out the latest technology. The selection of 3-D films is typically better here than anywhere else in the area, too.
Of course, the main problem is whether or not it’s worth the extra/drive + money. In the end it’s all about the quality of the film. You also have to buy IMAX tickets far in advance or you’re out of luck.
Photo by Flickr user SouthEast Dallas Photographer
Pros: Quirky theater, fun atmosphere, full martini bar
Cons: Only 3 screens, can be expensive
What a fun time this theater can be. It only seems appropriate to close this list with a theater that’s been in the area since 1947 and still going strong. The Inwood is not exceptionally far from campus (15-20 minutes driving depending on traffic), and they really have a wonderful atmosphere and beautiful theaters. Plus, if you’re in to seeing a cult classic on the big screen, this is the place to go. The Inwood frequently shows films such as Star Wars and The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight on the weekends.
Of course, while it’s a pretty fun and romantic place to see a movie, it’s not the best place if you’re looking to see something specific. Sometimes their “new releases” aren’t always brand-new and the theaters are small and can get packed quickly.
So there you have it. Anything I miss? Feel free to leave me a comment!
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