I’m not that old, but I’m old enough to remember when movie theaters were a fun treat rather than a place people take for granted. I wrote a two weeks ago wondering about the future of movie theaters, but lately I’ve been looking back to what they used to be.

I was a kid in the 1980’s back before these 30-theater megaplexes saturated the quality of movies. This was by no means the hey-day of Golden Age theaters, but they weren’t trash (or at least I don’t remember them that way.) One of my favorite theaters was on old Loews that had these awesome portraits of old movie stars painted (or screen printed) on the upper walls of the lobby.

The theater was set up in the shape of an upside-down “T” with the lobby area running horizontally, and the theater hallway perpendicular leading back. There may have been ten theaters total, five on each side of the single hallway. This made it easy for mom or dad to drop the kids off at one movie, while they went to another, easily walking back and forth to check on the kids. Though this probably also lead to a lot of theater-hopping among teenagers. All in all, the theater wasn’t grandiose, but it was special to me.

Nowadays, theaters have to be specialty theaters to be any good. I’ve mentioned my favorite Alamo Draft House before, but others like Studio Movie Grill are also good. These types of theaters serve a meal during the movie and tend to have special screenings. Alamo Draft House has Quote-Alongs, a Traveling Road Show, and other quirky fun things, while Studio Movie Grill tends to try to do classier advance screenings paired with a cocktail hour. Both are fun venues.

River Oaks Theater

Down in the Houston Area, there is the historic River Oaks Theater that was one of those old grandiose theaters with the red curtains and a balcony and everything. Unfortunately, 25 years ago, they split the balcony in two and now have the main theater downstairs and added two smaller theaters upstairs where the balcony used to be. It’s still a fun experience to see a movie there, and they have a monthly midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that I’ve been meaning to get down and check out.

Downtown Houston used to have an Angelika Theater that was also a specialty theater house, but unfortunately it closed last year. And I can’t even remember when the Alabama Theater was a theater before it turned into a bookstore, and then closed two years ago.

EDIT: I found this amazing website, called Cinema Houston, that discusses all the historic theaters in Houston. I could waste a whole night reading about these theaters. (And I did.)

All that being said, what happened to the old-timie theater? I mentioned in that previous article that gainfully employed adults with purchasing power would pay for an enjoyable theater experience. That doesn’t mean a 30-theater multiplex filled with hoodlum teenagers, but a 4-screen theater with actual ushers, and a classy atmosphere. and no, those theaters don’t have to show the most recent gross-out comedies. You can screen classics that people would pay to see on the big screen like Lawrence of Arabia, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, and of course Star Wars. Oh, and keep the 3D out of it.

I had a conversation with my dad a few weeks back where he told me people used to put on a suit to go to the movies. (He also said people wore suits when they flew on a plane, but that’s a whole other topic.) Imagine that. Patron actually showing an establishment some respect. Or even showing respect for themselves.

Maybe one day we’ll see a resurgence in the Great American Movie Theater, or maybe this old soul was born in the wrong time.

Alabama Theater