Over the last few years, movie theaters saw a big drop-off in attendance. 2011, 2014 and 2015 recorded the lowest numbers for the last two decades, according to fool.com. The rise of inexpensive large-screen TVs and ability to “binge watch” movies and shows from online streaming services means more people decide to stay home for entertainment.
After all, it takes effort to drag yourself to a movie theater. Once there, you endure high snack prices, chatty theater-goers, endlessly crying children, glare from smartphone screens and that one guy who spits soda on you when he laughs – yes, that’s a personal experience. If you stay home, you can pause the movie, invite only people you like, eat your own snacks, and talk or use your smartphone without other people glaring at you.
That being said, there are some movies that deserve to be seen on the big screen. Plus, during the Phoenix summer, movie theaters provide icy air-conditioning. Even better, to lure people back to the theater, some venues — like the six we’re about to list, plus our honorable mentions — step up their game and turn an evening at the movies into an event.
The FatCats Recline-N-Dine Theater in Gilbert doesn’t offer many screens, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on movie times and availability. However, it does offer massive electrically operated, leather reclining seats. They are super comfortable, although if you view with little ones – or a fidgety friend – you might get annoyed with them constantly pressing the buttons and adjusting the seating position.
As for the “dine” portion of “Recline-N-Dine,” you can order pizza, salad and paninis from Pizini, as well as snack-type dishes that get delivered to your seat during the movie. The prices are very reasonable at $6 to $9, and the kid meal options are only $4. Even better, the cost of a movie ticket lines up well with a regular theater, and on Tuesdays all movies are $5. For any show, we recommend you reserve seats in advance.
Once you’re done with the movie, FatCats also offers bowling, glow golf, video games and other family-friendly entertainment.
2. AMC Dine-in Theatres
The AMC Dine-in Theatres Esplanade 14 on Camelback presents a similar movie-going dining experience to FatCats only bigger. In addition to reclining leather seats, you get tray tables that allow for full meals. The meals can range from burgers to sushi and salads to milkshakes made right in the AMC Red Kitchen. All are delivered to your seat. The food runs a tad pricey – snack food and kid options start at $8 – but not too outrageous.
AMC also includes a full cocktail bar for a more adult movie-going experience. In fact, while its Fork & Screen theaters are for the whole family, the Cinema Suites option only allows viewers who are 21+. The theater also includes MacGuffins Bar & Lounge where you can order beer, wine and cocktails that you can self-carry to your seat. MacGuffins also appears in other select AMC locations around the Valley.
Make sure you reserve seats ahead of time so you get a spot.
3. Studio Movie Grill
Located in Scottsdale, Studio Movie Grill screens the latest movies and provides a huge menu of food and 60 premium spirits. Food prices are in line with a traditional restaurant, and the kids menu doesn’t break $6. Alas, the seats don’t recline like some of the other premium theaters, but they are large and comfortable. Ticket prices aren’t much more than a regular movie theater.
In addition to the food and movie, SMG features a lounge you can patronize after the movie to extend the evening, as long as you don’t have kids in tow. Speaking of kids, SMG does offer a Children’s Summer Series of kid-friendly movies that aren’t in the theaters anymore, such as “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and others.
It also features other specialty film series-screening events such as “Date Night,” “Toons,” “Girls’ Night Out,” “Family Review” and “Special Needs Screening” that play older movies. For the Special Needs Screening, the lights stay up and volume stays down so children can talk and move around.
In addition, SMG boasts a novel concept called Crowd-Sourcing screenings. These give audiences the chance to see lesser-known works like film festival pictures and anime movies. Like other crowd-sourcing models, if enough people buy tickets then the screening happens. Otherwise, you aren’t charged for the ticket.
We recommend reserving tickets early, although you can buy them easily enough onsite. However, the theater recommends showing up 20 minutes early either way.
As the name suggests, FilmBar combines a movie theater with a beer and wine bar. Plus you can order snack-type food and fresh tamales. It doesn’t have the fanciest seats or most extensive menu, but this 76-seat theater in downtown Phoenix stands apart by playing mostly independent and cult films.
In addition, it also shows concerts, Mexican wrestling and older films like “Dr. Strangelove.” So, if you’re tired of the blockbusters and mainstream films, this could be the theater for you. Note that FilmBar only allows ages 21 and older to attend.
5. iPic Theaters
Sure you’d get dressed up for a fancy night out at the symphony or ballet, but the movie theater tends to be a casual affair, especially during summer when shorts are almost required for going outside. However, if you are craving a fancier evening out now that the Symphony season wrapped up, iPic Theaters in Scottsdale deserves a look.
The theaters are small and comfortably exclusive with two tiers of “plush” –as iPic describes them – leather seats. Note that the Premium seats don’t recline or allow for food delivery. However, the Premium Plus section not only features reclining seats and food delivery, but you get a blanket and pillow, as well.
You have a choice of in-movie dining with iPic Express featuring food from Chef Sherry Yard, or you can eat a meal at the Italian-inspired Tanzy. Plus, iPic houses a bar and lounge for your in-movie cocktail enjoyment.
The decor for the entire facility screams fancy and up-scale. As you might imagine, prices are on the high side with Premium Seats going for $17 and the Premium Plus a whopping $27. Also, if you are over about 5-foot-seven, your feet may bump the wall in front of you in full recline. Seems they could have added a few inches at these prices.
6. Alamo Drafthouse
One of the Valley’s newest additions, Alamo Drafthouse out of Texas originated the idea of movie dining. You write your order on a slip of paper and servers bring you your food during the movie. True to its name, Alamo Drafthouse serves a wide variety of alcoholic beverages as well, including wines, cocktails and spirits.
Food selection includes everything from pizza and burgers to brunch and snack-type food. You can finish up with a milkshake — there are even special “adult” milkshakes — or other dessert. Prices are a little on the high side, but no more than a decent restaurant.
The seats don’t recline, but they’re large, comfy and leather. And Alamo offers several other perks that make it a must-visit. The biggest perk is the no-tolerance policy. If a patron disrupts the movie by talking or using a smartphone, you can complain to an usher and the patron will be kicked out.
Alamo Drafthouse also offers an eclectic range of movies. While it shows the latest blockbusters — and includes collectible cups and other merchandise around opening night — it also offers a regular range of classic, obscure or geeky films. These special screenings can be based on holidays, themes like Girls’ or Guys’ Night Out, or film anniversaries.
Wet ‘n’ Wild water park in Phoenix hosts Dive ‘n’ Movies every Thursday and Friday of June and July starting around 8 p.m. You get to float outdoors in the Monsoon Bay Wave Pool and watch a family-friendly movie – a different one each week.
Although everyone probably knows the name, many people have never tried an IMAX theater. For an epic movie like “Star Wars” or a documentary with gorgeous scenery, the five-story screen really does immerse you like nothing else. There are several IMAX locations around the valley: Arizona Science Center, AMC Desert Ridge, AMC Deer Valley, Harkins Arizona Mills, AMC Westgate, Surprise & IMAX and B&B Mesa Gateway.
For Lego fans, check out “Lego Movie 4D: A New Adventure” at the LegoLand Discovery Center in Arizona Mills mall in Tempe. It follows the continuing adventure of your favorite characters from the Lego Movie – with many of the original voice actors. To make it “4D” the theater hits the audience with effects like wind, water, fog and more. For older Lego fans, note that this is age restricted – with a twist. You must be accompanied by a child 10 years old or younger to get into LegoLand Discovery Center.
– Justin Ferris, Phoenix.org