Portland thrives on its independent spirit, and you can see it glow across the marquees of the city’s indie movie theaters. It’s no surprise that Portland’s independent movie theaters embody the same quirky, unconventional charm the city is known for. From experimental art films to mainstream blockbusters, cinephiles and casual movie-goers alike will find plenty of options for a good old-fashioned movie night in Portland.
Movie theaters flourished during the early 20th century. “The big theater boom was during the late 1920s, as the Depression was ending,” said Jeremy Ebersole, a conservation and preservation researcher. “Portland is not unique in the number of [historical] theaters, just the number that have survived.” After New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, Portland ranks fourth in the U.S. for number of operating historical theaters, with 22 across the city. While some no longer show films — instead hosting stage plays, live comedy and concerts — many of them have remained as independent movie houses. Besides century-old cinemas, moviegoers can also watch flicks at a converted schoolhouse, in a “living room,” and while they enjoy a local beer and pizza.
Thanks to passionate cinephiles, a community dedicated to nurturing the arts, and, as Ebersole notes, each neighborhood’s strong support for hyperlocal businesses, Portland’s indie cinemas are here to stay. So, let’s hit “play” on our tour of some of the city’s vibrant independent movie theaters.
Explore Portland’s Indie Theaters
Northwest & Southwest
Cinema 21 is a silver screen gem. Originally built as a single-screen theater that expanded with two additional screens. In the center of the Northwest neighborhood, the theater shows foreign films, indies and first-run films. There are many nearby spots to pick up dinner before a movie, like Scottie’s Pizza Parlor, right across the street.
For “a night out that feels like a night in” in downtown Portland, Living Room Theater is a full restaurant that sometimes features live music, while their auditoriums offer comfy loveseats to enjoy a movie. You can BYOB (bring your own blanket) for extra coziness. After emerging from the theater, walk a half-block to Powell’s Books to find your next favorite book.
To the south in downtown, Portland State University’s student-run 5th Avenue Cinema is a treat not just for the PSU community but film lovers, too. Each ticket comes with free popcorn.
The Hollywood Theatre has a rich history as a movie palace, replete with a small orchestra and organist when it opened in 1926. The Hollywood neighborhood is named after this historic landmark. It is now Portland’s only nonprofit, independent movie theater, with a mission to build community through the art of films while preserving a local landmark. While you’re at the Hollywood enjoying a cult classic or punk documentary, be sure to visit the Pie Hole window to grab a slice of pizza from local chain Sizzle Pie. For a full meal, Gado Gado serves up creative plays on Indonesian fare, while Chin’s Kitchen has served up Chinese classics since 1949. Both are just a few minutes away from the theater.
In the Concordia neighborhood, McMenamins’ Kennedy School is a converted schoolhouse turned hotel, brewery, restaurant, soaking pool and movie theater. The old auditorium has been transformed into a quaint theater screening family-friendly movies. Nearby Killingsworth Street and Alberta Arts District have shops and restaurants to round out your visit.
A favorite neighborhood theater is the Academy Theater in Montavilla. Grab a slice of Flying Pie pizza and a pint of beer to enjoy the latest popular film everyone is talking about, but you haven’t had time to see. In addition to first-run movies, the Academy runs a revival series with repertory classics you always wished you could see in a theater.
Laurelhurst Theater, located right on East Burnside Street, is an art deco-era cinema showing first-run films and the occasional classic and serving pizza slices, microbrews, and wine. For a sweet treat nearby, Fifty Licksis a fun and iconically colorful ice cream shop offering vegan and gluten-free options (and a gluten-free waffle cone). If you’re more into soft-serve sundaes, head to the Cheese & Crack Snack Shop across the street from the theater.
The St. Johns Theater & Pub and St. Johns Twin Cinemas are indie theaters in the St. Johns neighborhood. St. Johns Theater & Pub is part of the family-owned McMenamins chain (which also operates the Bagdad and Kennedy School theaters). It was originally built as an exhibit hall during Portland’s Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905. Follow the sidewalk stars to St. Johns Twin Cinemas, where an old-fashioned theater converted its balcony seating into a separate screening room.
And should you find yourself further into North Portland, check out the Jubitz Truck Stop off the I-5 freeway — they’ve got an indie movie theater, too.
At a busy little neighborhood intersection, the Clinton Street Theater consistently shows classics and foreign films. It hosts the city’s only interactive screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday night. “Allegedly the longest continuously running theater west of the Mississippi, the Clinton Street Theater has undergone a lot of changes since it opened in 1915,” said Aaron Colter, co-owner. “But for the most part, it has always been run by people who care more about the arts and community than money.”
Originally built in 1927 in the Hawthorne district, the McMenamins Bagdad Theater & Pub will take you back in time with its Mediterranean-style designs. Grab dinner and a movie; you can have a burger, pizza or beer at its sidewalk restaurant or have your meal delivered to you in the theater.
For one of the most thoughtful — and dare we say, spellbinding — screening schedules, head to CineMagic, also on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. Originally opened as Palm Theater in 1914, with at least seven name changes and even more owners, CineMagic now features an eclectic mix of indies and events like VHS Night, complete franchise screenings (think every “Fast and Furious” flick), and the Cinema City series dedicated to ‘80s and ‘90s Hong Kong classics.
For the little ones, this family-friendly theater nurtures the next generation of film lovers, Avalon Theater is a Portland institution on Belmont Street. The price of admission for a movie includes access to the arcade where you can win tickets to trade for tchotchkes and toys.
Located in a small strip mall off Southeast Powell Boulevard, Studio One Theater is another lush, homey theater where movie lovers lounge on overstuffed couches. Guests can order dinner to enjoy in the restaurant or have it delivered to their seats. Be sure to pick up a matcha soft serve cone at Premium Matcha Cafe Maiko, a few doors down from the theater.
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