Home entertainment systems and online streaming are convenient ways to watch movies, but there are still a few brick-and-mortar movie theaters that aim to give their audiences a unique filmgoing experience.
1. Sol Cinema
Based in Swansea, South Wales, Sol Cinema is the self-proclaimed “world’s smallest solar movie theater.” This mobile caravan-cum-cinema, which travels the U.K. for special events, screens short films with an LED video projector and can seat up to eight adults or 10 children. It also offers a mini box office, red carpet, usherette service, and popcorn to all of its guests.
"I wanted to avoid pollution and to demonstrate the practical possibilities of using the clean renewable energy from the sun,” the cinema's founder (and projectionist) Paul O'Connor told the Sunday Express of the cinema's origins. "But we have all been amazed at just how popular Sol Cinema has become. Maybe people are getting tired of the huge multiplexes and prefer the smaller independent cozy movie theaters of yesteryear.”
2. Sala Montjuïc
Each summer, Sala Montjuïc programs a lineup of world-class films—traditional classics and contemporary ones alike from a global slate of filmmakers—as part of an open-air film festival on the grounds of Montjuïc Castle, a former military fortress that sits atop Montjuïc Hill in Barcelona, Spain.
3. Kennedy School Theater
When brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin bought a defunct Portland, Oregon elementary school and converted it into a hotel, they also converted the old school auditorium into a 300-seat movie theater filled with comfy old sofas, loveseats, and antique armchairs. Kennedy School Theater showcases second-run movies, along with older family films and indies, for only $4 a ticket (or just $2 for kids 11 and under). There's also an adjacent bar where patrons can grab food and drinks.
4. Hot Tub Cinema
Though based in London, each Hot Tub Cinema event takes place at a different location (whether it's indoors or outdoors depends on the season) where the organizers set up a dozen portable hot tubs in front of a giant movie screen. Each hot tub seats up to six people and has a dedicated waiter who, according to the website, will "service your every whim, need, and desire (within reason)." But just because the movie ends doesn't mean the night has to; a movie's end credits are just the beginning of the evening's dance party. The concept was so successful in the U.K. that Hot Tub Cinema has now expanded to both New York City and Ibiza, Spain. It has also spawned the equally fun, but far less wet, Pillow Cinema, where moviegoers settle into oversized bean bag chairs for the big show (with complimentary blankets included).
5. Sun Pictures Cinema
Founded in 1916, Western Australia's Sun Pictures Cinema is the Guinness World Record holder for the "Oldest Open-Air Cinema in Operation." It has remained relatively unchanged with its corrugated iron and Jarrah wood structure, deck chair seating, and “Humphrey’s” (men’s) and “Vivien’s” (women’s) labeled restrooms that hearken back to Hollywood's Golden Age. But as historic as the vibe may be, the movies are all first-run.
6. Paragon Cineplex
At first glance, the Paragon Cineplex in Siam, Thailand's Siam Paragon Mall might seem like just another mall multiplex. And while its 16 lavish auditoriums with Nokia Ultra Screens and motorized reclining seats are impressive to be sure, it's in the small details that this theater really shines. Among the theater's unique amenities are complimentary drinks, snacks, and popcorn throughout the movie plus a complimentary foot massage in the V.I.P. lounge beforehand. Moviegoers opting to watch a flick in the Cineplex’s Enigma auditorium will find sofa beds in place of regular old theater chairs; gratis wine, cocktails, or whiskey pre-screening and an assortment of pastas, crepes, and desserts during the film only add to the experience.
7. Cinespia at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Since 2002, Cinespia has been showcasing classic and contemporary films at the historic Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which technically means you're watching a movie with some of Hollywood's biggest stars, as the venue is the final resting place of such movie legends as Jayne Mansfield, Cecil B. DeMille, Mel Blanc, Douglas Fairbanks, and Peter Lorre. Patrons are encouraged to bring blankets, pillows, picnic dinners, and alcoholic beverages to enjoy under (and above) the stars. Cinespia also provides live music for special themed movie screenings (Scottish indie rock band Belle & Sebastian once performed before a screening of Trainspotting, for example).
8. Electric Cinema in London
Located in London's Notting Hill neighborhood, Electric Cinema is one of the oldest running movie theaters in England. It first opened in 1910, but closed its doors due to low ticket sales and building decay in 1993. But all was not lost: in 2001, the refurbished theater opened under new management and became so popular that it's now become somewhat of a mini-chain, with two locations in Notting Hill and one in Shoreditch. The theaters include a mix of leather armchairs, loveseats, and double beds for seating, and a full bar, restaurant, and silent table service are available during the feature.
9. Pula Arena
One of six of the largest surviving ancient Roman arenas in the world, Pula Arena in Pula, Croatia was built between 27 BCE and 68 CE, and it’s still in use for events that include concerts, ice hockey games, and movie screenings. The arena is also home to the Pula Film Festival, Croatia’s oldest film festival.
10. Electric Dusk Drive-In
Traditional drive-ins are a dying breed in the United States, but there are some more modern spins on the classic for people who love watching a movie behind the wheel—and Electric Dusk Drive-In is one of them. This monthly drive-in sits atop a parking garage in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles and features special screening events, double features, and family nights, along with concession offerings at a rooftop “snack shack.”
11. Archipelago Cinema
First, the good news: Designed by German architect Ole Scheeren for the 2012 Film on the Rocks festival, Archipelago Cinema was an auditorium constructed on a floating barge in Nai Pi Lae lagoon on Thailand's Kudu Island. Scheeren, who wanted the theater to resemble floating driftwood from afar, modeled the theater on local fishermen's lobster rafts and used recycled materials. Filmgoers were ushered into the center of the lagoon on boats to watch a movie under the stars on the floating cinema. After the festival, the intention was to take the floating movie theater to other parts of the world before returning it to the community of Yao Noi, where it could be used "as its own playground and stage in the ocean." The bad news? Not much has been seen or written about this gorgeous venue since its maiden voyage.