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The Best Movie Theaters in New York

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Getty

For True Projectionists

The Roxy, 2 Sixth Ave.;

Located in the basement of the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca, this theater is intimate and draped in yards of red velvet, but its true appeal is the quality of its projection work. The Roxy frequently screens classics on 35-mm., like Steven Spielberg’s 2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence or David Lynch’s 1997 Lost Highway, and projecting them requires a unique skill set — only 50 or so theater-union technicians regularly work with film. “You have to ride the print and watch and make subtle adjustments with each reel changeover,” says Max Cornillon, a former manager at the Museum of the Moving Image, who says that during a Roxy screening of Michael Mann’s Ali, the projectionist came out periodically to check that the picture was in focus and correctly synced. “They actually care about the medium of film itself,” Cornillon says. “It’s not for the clout; it’s about the mission of showing good films in a format that’s disappearing.”

For the Cheapest Ticket

Spectacle, 124 S. 3rd St., Williamsburg;

There are two main reasons to head to Spectacle, the 35-seat microcinema in Brooklyn. The first is the curation: “People go there to see something that’s esoteric and challenging that you probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to see in a theater in other circumstances,” says film critic Kyle Turner, who first heard about Spectacle through his Twitter network and decided to go there to see I, the Worst of All, a 1990 film about a sapphic Argentine nun, programmed around the release of Paul Verhoeven’s 2021 film, Benedetta. Since it opened in 2010, Spectacle’s members’ collective has screened everything from contemporary indie work, such as Matt Barats’s latest documentary, Cash Cow, to unusual international films, like the 1981 Hungarian animated film Son of the White Mare. The second reason to go to Spectacle is for the price of admission: Because it’s run entirely by volunteers, standard screenings cost just $5.

For Hong Kong Action Movies

Regal Tangram, 133-36 37th Ave., Flushing;

Clyde Folley, a video editor at the Criterion Collection, first stumbled upon the Regal Tangram in Queens while searching for movie times at the nearby College Point Multiplex, where for years he’s gone to catch blockbuster releases and then eat Sichuan food afterward. “How often do you hear about a new Regal?” he says of the 4DX theater that opened in 2021, one of the latest in the city to offer multisensory audience effects like wind and fog. Folley and a friend ended up seeing Top Gun: Maverick there on opening night, returning two months later for the Wai Kai Fai–directed action movie Detective vs. Sleuths. “I was born in Bangkok, and the Tangram reminds me of the high-end shopping malls there, where there’s distinctly Asian businesses and incredible food options,” says Folley of the 1.2 million-square-foot residential building and shopping-mall complex that houses the Regal Tangram. “It’s the ideal place to go see new releases and big Hong Kong movies; maybe ten people were in the theater for Top Gun, but the theater was packed for Detective vs. Sleuths.

For Repertory-Style Cinema

Light Industry, 361 Stagg St., Ste. 407, East Williamsburg;

“I wasn’t around at the dawn of repertory film in New York,” says filmmaker Caroline Golum, “but there’s something very Repertory Cinema Year One about going to see an Esther Shatavsky film and then Lewis Seiler’s Women’s Prison, both on 16-mm.” Golum caught the recent Shatavsky-and-Seiler double feature in the experimental theater’s new space; after two years in Sunset Park, then a decade in Greenpoint, Light Industry was reopened this fall by co-founders Thomas Beard and Ed Halter in a fourth-floor East Williamsburg loft with blue velvet curtains, a bar where film books are sold, and a single screen, where avant-garde, art house, and otherwise archived films are run. In recent years, that’s meant the pre-Code Hollywood Island of Lost Souls (1932); James Benning’s Ten Skies, a 2004 long-exposure doc on clouds; and ’60s amateur spoof films by the Gay Girls Riding Club. “I don’t think you’re gonna see those anywhere else,” says Golum. “Ed and Thomas are kind of the whole thing. It’s like two brilliant curators masterminding it.”

For the Most Comfortable Seat

Regal Essex Crossing, 129 Delancey St.;

“I love the big seats that you can lie down in,” says actor Maia Scalia of the fully reclinable chairs at Regal Essex Crossing, where she recently went with friends to see herself in Morbius. “It’s the perfect combination of a shared viewing experience but also feeling like I’m curled up on my couch.” Regal Essex opened on the Lower East Side in 2019 as part of a wave of new amenitized movie theaters like IPIC and Alamo Drafthouse; according to those surveyed, it’s the comfiest of this cohort, partly because Regal Essex isn’t designed for eating a meal while you watch (Alamo, for instance, serves a full menu). Instead, the wide and generously padded faux-leather seats at Regal Essex include cleverly designed trays with built-in drink holders that make it easier to share popcorn while fully reclining. “There’s a bounciness when you drop into your seat, kind of like falling into a cloud,” says the former museum manager Max Cornillon. “It’s astounding how much they spent to do these renovations,” says the critic Kyle Turner. “The seats are almost too comfortable.”

For Documentaries

Firehouse Cinema, 87 Lafayette St.;

When DCTV opened Firehouse Cinema, its documentary-specific movie theater in Chinatown, “it was such a bucket-list moment to get to screen my film there,” says Sanjna Selva, whose latest project, about two sisters separated by the war in Ukraine, premiered at Firehouse. Before the single-screen theater opened this fall — in a landmarked fire station from 1895, remodeled with a concession stand and stadium seating — the city’s documentary scene lacked a dedicated space for viewing new work, “which typically gets pushed into the series format or to festivals instead of getting a theatrical release,” says documentary producer Jessica Call, who most recently saw Nina Menkes’s Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power at Firehouse. “To be able to see a niche film like that, that’s all about the gaze of the camera on women’s bodies, at a normal theater and not somewhere like Sundance — that feels really rare.”

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