The past year pushed many of us inside, pulling cinephiles such as myself away from the strange comfort of air-conditioned, butter-scented, sticky movie theaters and mediocre new blockbusters; exchanging such musky yet cozy delights for the arid landscape of PVOD and streaming releases such as Netflix’s Mank. I deeply miss my weekend pilgrimages to the theater, trekking through whatever harsh elements Portland has to offer in exchange for the ambrosia that was seeing a new release on the big screen. Thankfully, with the well-timed arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, theaters are beginning to reopen, and a return to the cinema is no longer a distant future. In case you’re not familiar with Portland’s local cinemas, here are six of the best theaters in the city.
616 NW 21st Avenue
Cinema 21 is one of Portland’s oldest theaters, and it’s built a loyal following despite having only three screens. It’s one of the most crucial pillars that support Portland’s festival circuit, and has been embedded in Portland’s local film industry for a long time, hosting such names as Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant and Kelly Reichardt. One of its most popular traditions is the rare late-night screening of the 2003 disasterpiece The Room with Tommy Wiseau in attendance, which has occurred several times over the years—always managing to rack up a full house. Outside of their presence on the festival circuit, Cinema 21 is also the go-to spot for movies from distributors such as A24 and NEON, whose films don’t usually manage to hit the multiplex.
4122 NE Sandy Blvd
The Hollywood Theatre has been around for 95 years, affixing itself as the most prestigious theatrical experience in the city. It’s one of the only theaters to screen films in 35mm and 70mm, and it kicks off every year with several stellar 70mm screenings (I highly recommend seeing 2001: a Space Odyssey there at the next screening). Although the Hollywood does show new releases, its true speciality is in festivals and speciality screenings, such as old silent films accompanied by a live organ score. Going to the Hollywood feels like more than just going to the movies—it’s an experience in and of itself, and is truly one of the best moviegoing affairs in the area. The theatre is currently still closed, but you can keep up to date on their social media or by signing up for their newsletter.
1219 SW Park Ave
The Whitsell Auditorium is the screening room of Portland’s very own filmmaking mecca—the NW Film Center. Beyond hosting classes and workshops and supporting local industry, the NW Film Center also hosts extensive screenings of locally-made films and old classics. The Whitsell Auditorium is a vital part of local film festivals such as the Portland International Film Festival and the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. You’ll frequently find it hosting retrospectives on the work of classic directors such as Agnes Varda or screening obscure new features from local Pacific Northwest filmmakers.
Living Room Theaters
341 SW 10th Avenue
Living Room Theaters’ name comes from its fame for having the comfiest theater experience in the state, with couch-like seats, small screening rooms, and a food and drink menu. It’s pretty much the closest thing you’ll get to a Pacific Northwest equivalent to Alamo Drafthouse. Living Room shows a diverse hodgepodge of films, but is most well-known for its array of international festival circuit titles. The theater serves food and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to patrons of age, and their doors are closed to anyone under 21 past 7:30 p.m., making it a great theater for people eager to escape multiplex screenings with chattery kids. It’s currently open, showing all types of films from the new Mortal Kombat to Jasmila Žbanić’s Oscar-nominated Bosnian drama Quo Vadis, Aida?
340 SW Morrison St (Pioneer Place), 846 SW Park Ave (Fox Tower), 1510 NE Multnomah St (Lloyd Center)
Regal Cinemas is one of the major United States theater chains alongside AMC and Cinemark, and it has multiple locations embedded throughout the city. The two closest theaters to Portland State’s campus are Regal Fox Tower 10 and Regal Pioneer Place 6, located respectively in the Fox Tower skyscraper and the upper floor of the Pioneer Place mall. Despite being so close to each other, the theaters show very different films, resulting in little overlap between the two locations. Regal is the best location to head to if you’re looking for the newest blockbusters, smaller-budget Hollywood films and Oscar nominees.
It also has an IMAX screen at the location over at Lloyd Center, which is worth the trek if you want to watch new releases on the biggest screen you can. Regal’s also well-known for their participation in the yearly Studio Ghibli Fest, which re-screens old Studio Ghibli movies throughout the year, and their Regal Unlimited subscription allows you to watch unlimited movies for only $21/month, which is easily the best deal for frequent cinemagoers. Regal’s Portland locations haven’t reopened just yet, but Fox Tower and Lloyd Center are reopening on May 14th, with Pioneer Place to follow on the 21st.
5th Avenue Cinema
510 SW Hall St.
5th Avenue Cinema is PSU’s very own student-run cinema, screening a precisely-curated lineup of films every weekend for as long as classes are active. Tickets are free for PSU students, and the theater is one of the only in the region to screen films on both 35mm and digital, allowing for some truly unique experiences (summer 2019’s closing film was a 35mm screening of Masaki Kobayashi’s Hara-Kiri—a once in a lifetime experience). The theater remains closed until the campus fully reopens, but until then, its employees are hosting a biweekly podcast discussing their favorite films.