Family smiling at a movie theater heading into the theater after buying concessions.
There are several small movie theaters in existence across the U.S. that offer film-viewing with many other unique characteristics and historical charm. — Getty Images/bernardbodo

As the Oscars approach on March 10, 2024, film enthusiasts are flocking to theaters to catch this year’s nominated films. While giants like AMC Entertainment dominate the market with its 7,712 screens across North America, attendance at some smaller theaters, which offer unique and often intimate film-viewing experiences, is booming, too.

Below are six small U.S. movie theaters that are still thriving in 2024.

Babcock Theatre

Situated in Downtown Billings, Montana, the Babcock Theatre is a 750-seat venue with a history spanning more than 110 years. The venue opened as the Billings Opera House, but burned down in 1906. It was rebuilt the next year as the Babcock Theatre for live events. However, when a second fire occurred during a 1935 prize fight, the venue transitioned to showing motion pictures.

In recent years, the historic building has undergone rehabilitation efforts to return to its midcentury look. Today, the venue’s owners are seeking a Montana Historic Preservation Grant, as they continue to preserve the history of the theater while providing nightly entertainment to the residents of Billings.

Coolidge Corner Theatre

Brookline, Massachusetts' Coolidge Corner Theatre is a four-screen, 700-seat movie theater known for its diverse programming, including international, documentary, animated, and independent films, as well as special events that have attracted notable personalities from the film industry. The venue, recognized as “New England’s most successful independent, nonprofit cinema” and the first of its kind in the community, has been in operation since 1933 when it saw a transformation from a 1906 church into an art deco movie theater.

As of early 2024, the theater is undergoing a 14,000-square-foot expansion to add more screens and establish a center dedicated to community education and engagement.

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Cranford Theater

For almost 100 years, the Cranford Theater has provided entertainment to the Cranford, New Jersey community through its support of film and independent filmmakers. While the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the moviegoing experience, the five-screen theater adapted by hosting drive-in movies with a twist: each screening was accompanied by a charitable initiative and featured unique pre-show content, themed souvenirs, and costumed employees.

In 2024, Cranford Theater continues to support the local art scene and celebrate its love of film, from rolling out pink carpets for the “Barbie” movie to hosting the upcoming 22nd Annual Garden State Film Festival.

Brookline, Massachusetts' Coolidge Corner Theatre is a four-screen, 700-seat movie theater known for its diverse programming, including international, documentary, animated, and independent films, as well as special events that have attracted notable personalities from the film industry.

The Moviehouse

Founded in 1978, The Moviehouse in Millerton, New York, is one of Hudson Valley’s largest independent cinemas, recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater, which came into new ownership under David Maltby and Chelsea Altman, offers an array of film experiences, including one-off and limited screenings of specialty films, documentaries, and live performances, often accompanied by discussions or Q&As, along with events like Met Opera Live, National Theatre Live productions, and exhibitions on screen.

This three-theater venue, which seats nearly 500 people, has seen major renovations and upgrades recently, including a new speakeasy-style lounge, an additional bar, and a new elevator.

Rivoli Theatre

Nestled in the small town of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, the Rivoli Theatre is a historic movie venue housed in a structure that originally served as a dry goods store in the 1800s. The venue, now the sole single-screen theater in Ozaukee County, has been in operation since its opening on January 11, 1936, when it showed “A Tale of Two Cities” for twenty-five cents per ticket.

Despite the inevitable rise in ticket prices over the decades, efforts are currently underway to restore the theater to its original 1930s glory. This restoration involves reversing previous modifications to reinstate the venue’s iconic glass-enclosed ticket booth and highlight its new marquee, reinvigorating its historic charm.

Varsity Cinema

Varsity Cinema is a one-screen movie theater in Des Moines, Iowa. Housed in a former Student Army Training Corps-turned-Coca-Cola bottling plant, the 1917 building was transformed into The Varsity in December 1938 by The Garbett family. In the 1970s, the theater made a name for itself when former owner Bev Mahon took back over and began showing more controversial “art house” programming.

The venue briefly shut down in 2018, but nonprofit organization Des Moines Film raised funding from over 1,000 donors to purchase the building and resurrect it into its current iteration as Varsity Cinema. As of 2024, plans are in the works to expand the cinema, including an additional screening room and elevator.

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