We're guessing you've already noticed that summer is in full effect here in the Valley, but if you happened to have missed the memo and have yet to join the pity party we tend to throw ourselves annually, that's okay. Your friends will make sure you join by incessantly posting temperature photos from inside their cars.
Lucky for us desert dwellers, it's a time-honored tradition for Phoenicians to go to the movies during the brutal summer months to escape the heat (and those obnoxious social media updates about it). Here are our 10 favorite movie theaters (in no particular order) where you can catch the latest blockbuster, cult classic, or indie flick.
Harkins Valley Art Located on Mill Avenue, Harkins Valley Art is Arizona's oldest and longest-operating movie theater. Built in 1940, it still has its original single-operator ticket window, marquee, and neon signage, evoking a sense of nostalgia. Although it's been renovated, you still feel a little sense of time-traveling when you enter the single-screen theater. In the age of bigger equals better, the simplicity is nice. Valley Art usually runs two movies concurrently, and the films are generally independent.
The Picture Show at Paradise Valley Mall In the land of theater monopolies, it's nice to have an option that plays new releases but isn't one of the Big Two. What's even nicer is more affordable pricing and less-crowded theaters, which is exactly what The Picture Show inside Paradise Valley Mall offers. Their regular adult pricing is $8, matinees are $6, and shows before noon cost $5. There's a $2.50 surcharge for 3-D movies, making The Picture Show's affordability unparalleled when it comes to seeing new flicks. Theater-goers find lower prices at the concession stand, too, where hot dogs are $1. Small crowds and a whole lotta bang for your buck make the Picture Show a must-see.
Pollack Tempe Cinemas Pollack Tempe Cinemas is unlike any other discount theater we've ever seen. Located in a nondescript strip mall, the theater lobby holds a hodgepodge of movie memorabilia, including a Pirates of the Caribbean museum-worthy exhibit, along with celebrity cardboard cutouts, movie posters, and signed photos. Add the kitschy decor to the theater's arcade, plus a slightly creepy band of cowboy hat-wearing creatures called "The Raggmuffins of Rock," reminiscent of the now-defunct Pistol Pete's singing animatronic band, and you've got a one-of-a-kind movie experience. Recently the theater went all-digital, adding to its appeal. At $3 a ticket, it's hard to beat, even if you can't see new releases right away.
Ultra Star Cinemas Theaters these days are trying hard to distance the movie experience from a just-like-home vibe. The pinnacle of the trend is a new wave of theaters with gourmet restaurants and concessions that offer way more than your average popcorn-and-Red-Vines combo -- that's in addition to in-theater cocktail service, better seats and technology, and a personal own server attending to your cravings throughout the film. Ultra Star Cinemas offers all of the above, including the new D-BOX technology, which uses motion codes programmed for your specific film and sends them to your seat to help immerse you into the film even more. Its StarClass Auditoriums are for those 21 and older and allow beer and wine consumption and in-seat ordering. Tiered pricing is offered based on multiple seating options. StarClass will run you $10 for a matinee screening and $12.50 at night, which is quite reasonable for a luxury theater experience.
West Wind Glendale 9 Drive-In Back in the day, going to the drive-in movies was all the rage. Although most of us still hold a special place in our hearts for drive-in theaters, unfortunately they have mostly disappeared from the movie-going landscape. West Wind Glendale 9 is the Valley's last remaining drive-in option. Tickets are $6.75 per person, except on Tuesdays when an adult ticket costs $4.75 and kids between 5 and 11 pay $1. It's one of the cheapest ways to see a new release. Just make sure you get there early to avoid the lines to get inside. A pickup, plenty of blankets (to lie on of course, not under) and pillows, plus good company is a winning recipe for a great night out at the drive-in.
Harkins Cine Capri at Scottsdale 101 Coming in first in the Bigger is Better competition is the illustrious Cine Capri. Boasting a 70-foot screen, it's hard to find a more film-focused way to watch a flick. Its 600 stadium-style Ultimate Rocker loveseats provide a comfortable setting, while 40,000 watts of digital sound and Dolby Atmos immersion technology will have you feeling like you were accidentally cast as an extra in the film. As host to the annual Phoenix Film Festival, the Cine Capri at Scottsdale 101 brings a level of sophistication and pride to Phoenician film buffs. And who doesn't love those gold waterfall curtains? You'll pay a premium for the Cine Capri auditorium, although it doesn't rival luxury theater costs, with tickets at $10.50 for adults. Other screens will run you a buck less at $9.50.
AMC Esplanade 14 Back in 2011, after an extensive renovation, AMC was one of the first chains to offer a luxury take on the dine-in theater experience with its Esplanade 14 complex. It offers an upscale bar and lounge called MacGuffins, where you can sip on pre- or post-movie libations. Coffee drinks and smoothies are also on the menu. The theater offers two auditorium options: Fork & Screens, which are for those 18 and older, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian; and Cinema Suites, which is for those 21 and older only. Although Fork & Screen is 18 and over, you can still order cocktails and food from its extensive menu.
Both auditoriums have La-Z-Boy seating with call service buttons and blankets. Its pricing tiers are different based on days of the week, time of day, and which auditorium you choose. Tickets range from $6.75 to $12.50 Monday through Thursday, and $7.50 to $16.50 Friday through Sunday.
Harkins Camelview If you're looking to see the next indie smash or must-see foreign film, you go to Camelview. Tucked to the side of Scottsdale Fashion Square is the Valley's beloved independent movie theater. Its five screens consistently run thought-provoking, surreal, artistic, and intellectual films that would otherwise have nowhere to show in the Phoenix area. It also offers movie-savvy folks the opportunity for bragging rights since they can see movies before they go mainstream and to bigger theaters. Camelview is a gem, as are many of the independent films it screens.
FilmBar Located in the Roosevelt District, FilmBar gives Phoenix a truly unique movie-going experience. It's not just a movie theater, it's also an art house and a bar that features local artists on its walls and Moroccan decor from owner Kelly Aubey's travels. Located in a former rubber stamp warehouse built in 1965, the theater has plenty of character. The unique watering hole hosts rare old films, cult classics, and current independent and foreign films in its theater, which seats about 70. Tickets are $8, and you don't have to catch the current-running film to take advantage of its laid-back lounge and the kind of atmosphere that you can only get downtown.
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iPic at Scottsdale Quarter Well, what can we say about the opulent movie theater that is iPic? How about holy awesomeness? If you're into seeing your movies in theaters that rival extravagant Las Vegas hotels in glamour, boasting recliners that are probably way nicer than your own couch, then this is the place for you. Located in Scottsdale Quarter, the theater exudes a regal air without too much pomp. As far as luxury theaters go, this one takes the cake. With two seating options (the seats closer to the screen are cheaper and you have to bring your own food and booze in from the lobby), the way to go is with the premium seats, which are higher up in the auditorium and come with free popcorn, a personal server, a pillow, and a blanket.
The theater is smaller than most traditional auditoriums, making for an intimate experience, and when you buy your ticket you get to pick your seat, just like on an airplane. So no guessing on whether there's still good seats left or having to get to the theater super early for a good spot. Becoming a theater member is free and well worth it, since it brings you pretty significant savings, the ability to buy advance tickets online and access to some films before they are made available to the general public.
Editor's Note: This post has been modified from its original version.