A night at the movies has gotten more special since a number of Houston cinema complexes have added plush seats, ability to pick where you want to sit and upscale food and drinks. Sure, it might make for a pricey evening, but at least it's first class all the way. Here's our pick of the best theaters in Houston to watch a first-run movie:
The newest Houston cinema complex, located at River Oaks District, has been called the "Air Emirates of movie theaters" because of its plush and pricey surroundings. Its eight theaters offer a luxury experience with two options — Premium (spacious leather seats) and Premium Plus (deluxe leather seats that recline electronically, complimentary pillows and soft blankets, a storage area for shoes and handbags, free popcorn and a rotating table for food and drink served by black-clad Ninja waiters).
Ticket prices can vary from $16 to $44, but discounted tickets are available for Sapphire members who pay an annual $29 fee.
Robert Redford's dream movie complex is now owned by Carmike Cinemas, which kept the name and same film-going attitude. Sundance Cinemas, located in Bayou Place in downtown Houston, continues to offer online ticket sales, the opportunity to pick your seat in advance, and a large lobby bar with extensive food offerings in addition to traditional popcorn and a soda. Movie offerings are a mix of blockbusters and independent films. And best of all, there are no commercials before a movie begins.
The Landmark River Oaks Theatres, which shows art house and independent films exclusively, has a magnificent first-floor theater that has the feel of an elegant, old-time movie palace with a big screen, art deco friezes on each side of the screen and lots of seats. Look online or call to make sure that the movie you're seeing is there and not on one of the two second-floor screens, carved out of the balcony, that are cramped with less-than-optimal acoustics. A full-service upstairs bar provides a range of liquid options.
The Austin-based chain really loves movies, which is evident at the Vintage Park location, with seven screens showing new releases, independent films, and repertory programming with state-of-the-art sound and projection, including two auditoriums equipped with 35mm projector systems. Online reserved seating, a multi-course menu featuring such items asa "Royale with Cheese" Burger and warm chocolate chip cookies, and a strict"no texting, no talking" cell phone policy make the moviegoing experience civilized.
Also, patrons must be 18 years or older or be accompanied by a parent for most films. But the theater offers a weekly Baby Day, for regular shows that start before 2 pm on Tuesdays, and infants are allowed in for free.
Movie fans also have kind words about the other Houston-area Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park location in Katy.
The multi-screen complex in popular CityCentre offers first-run movies with the latest digital and sound projection, online reserved seating, a full bar, featuring more than 60 premium spirits, signature cocktails and local microbrews, and in-theater dining, where you press the call button at your seat and a server will arrive to take your order.
In early May, Studio Movie Grill will open a 12-auditorium theater with more than 1,200 luxury seats in Pearland at the Shops at Boulder Creek. The new theater complex will feature luxury, custom recliners with built-in tabletops and "push for service" call buttons, as well as Christie DLP powered projectors with Q-SYS sound systems to every screen plus Dolby 3D.
The Stafford multiplex is getting high marks from moviegoers since undergoing a recent remodel that includes plush reclining leather seats, a bar called MacGuffins (named for a cinema phrase coined by Alfred Hitchcock) featuring beer, wine and cocktails that can be consumed in the theaters, an expanded food menu and a self-serve soda fountain, which seems appropriate at a cinema located in the Fountains.
The theater complex with 22 screens is actually located in Richmond, but some film fans say it's worth the drive for the enhanced movie-going experience, which includes six screens with wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling screens, Sony 4K digital projection and Dolby Atmos sound in all screens along with stadium seating with reclining seats, D-Box premium motion controlled seats in some theaters, reserved seating and in-theater dining. There's even a bowling alley in the complex for those who want to hit the lanes before of after a movie.
The San Antonio-based theater operator also operates the Santikos Silverado IMAX in Tomball, which offers many of the same features as the Richmond complex.
For art house movies, in addition to the Sundance Cinemas and River Oaks Theatre, the following options offer the best in independent film:
Brown Auditorium Theater at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston shows an extensive mix of classic, art, independent and foreign films in one of the best theater spaces in town, although they don't allow popcorn or drinks.
The non-profit media arts center presents artist-made, non-commercial films and videos in its Rice/Kirby headquarters as well as collaborative partnerships and site-specific events in unique settings and alternative art spaces around Houston.
Film lover Cressandra Thibodeaux has transformed the former site of the Aurora Picture Show into a performing arts space and movie theater showing independent documentaries and little-known feature films that might not otherwise be viewed in Houston.