The Art of the Movie Theater


Sebastian Diaz, Features Editor

Anyone who’s been to an AMC movie theater in the past few months should be familiar with one of the most absurdly corny movie theater advertisements in recent memory: As the commercials end, the lights in the movie theater dim and the projector lights the screen up, we watch as famed actress Nicole Kidman walks into a movie theater.

“We come to this place for magic,” Kidman says, as she sits opposite a screen projecting clips from movies like “Wonder Woman” and “Jurassic World.” “Dazzling images on a huge silver screen, sound that I can feel,” she continues. “Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this.” Ultimately, you’re supposed to feel moved after receiving Kidman’s address about the inherent magic of viewing a movie in a movie theater.

The thing is, barring the unfortunate selection of movies shown during the ad and its objectively campy nature, she’s right. 

I was never one to care too much for the movie theater experience. It was a place I could go to catch some new releases, but if I missed their theatrical run, no biggie. I could always stop by the Redbox a few months later and watch it on the TV in my living room. 

That changed in 2018. Unknowing that the ultimate path of my life would be altered, I sat down for a midnight showing of the analog restoration of “2001: A Space Odyssey” –— original 70mm film reels projected onto an IMAX screen. 

By the end of the film’s two hour and 20-minute runtime, I felt as though I had discovered a new color that humanity was never supposed to gaze upon. I felt like Prometheus observing the fire. Since then, I made it my mission to watch as many movies in a theater as possible.

In the four years since then, I’ve sat down in a theater more times than I can remember. Asking me to count each visit would be like asking me to count the grains of sand on the beach.

The immersive experience of a movie theater is unparalleled. A film designed to be viewed on a large theater screen can never be watched the same way on a screen in a living room. Living in New York City for nearly two years now, some of my favorite memories have revolved around the movie theater experience, especially when it comes to sharing that experience with friends. 

I still remember when, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during the fall 2020 semester, as movie theaters began to reopen, I arrived at a nearly-empty screening of Katsuhiro Otomo’s “Akira.” Despite it already being one of my favorite films at that point, seeing it play out in front of me in that magnitude opened up new layers, new depths, an entirely new experience. In the pessimism of the pandemic, it was a light at the end of my tunnel.

In one of the largest cultural capitals of the world, New York City offers an incredible selection of movie theaters. No matter what kind of movies you’re interested in, from the blockbuster mass-market action flicks to the emotional surrealist arthouse films made by a hipster in Brooklyn last week, there’s a theater somewhere in town playing them. 

You’d be remiss to overlook these kinds of opportunities, especially as we enter a future where it seems as though movie theaters are a dying breed. More and more, the movie experience and film industry are beginning to base themselves around streaming. 

Platforms like Netflix and HBO Max are starting to host streaming-only services for films designed to be experienced in a movie theater. Watching films on an iPhone in bed is starting to become a normalized practice. The shift from the theater to the phone is transforming movies from a whole spectacle of art and craftsmanship into media designed solely for consumption, pumping out two hours of content as fast as possible solely for content’s sake. 

Why? The inundation that streaming has caused to the film industry, the saturation of the market, is one that has hindered the impact that movies can have on a viewer. As a culture, it gets harder to watch a film to celebrate filmmakers. Instead, we find ourselves watching a movie because it’s there, because it’s easy to find, because we can. 

I wrote all of this just to say: Go to the movies.