Like any other misanthrope worth their salt, Managing Editor Zack Abrams spends a lot of time going to the movies. Here are his recommendations on how to make the most out of a trip to the movies with theater recommendations, money-saving tips, and valuable life hacks.
Table of Contents
1. Best Theaters
2. Which subscription service?
3. Money-saving tips and other tricks
1. Best Theaters
I’m often asked where to go to see a movie; the answer is, it depends on a few factors: namely the money you want to spend, the available formats, and the type of movie itself. If you love going to the movies and want to go more than once a month, there’s probably a subscription service that will fit your needs down in the next section. But if you only go every so often and want to make the most of it, here are my recommendations for the theatres to check out. Beware: prices vary by theater, showtime, and location, so check the website for your specific showtime to get the right price. If you have any questions I didn’t address here, feel free to shoot me an email!
An Unforgettable Experience – AMC Lincoln Square IMAX (20 mins from campus via 1 train, ~$25)
You’ve probably heard of IMAX, a premium format for movies with a huge screen and great sound. However, the branding can be misleading; while many movie theaters boast an IMAX auditorium, only a select few throughout the country project their movies in the 15 perf / 70mm format. Basically, a typical IMAX theater, what some call “LieMAX,” will project a regular aspect ratio and quality on a large screen. It’ll be bright and have good sound, but it won’t blow you away.
The IMAX at AMC Lincoln Square, however, is one of those rare theaters that takes advantage of the largest format possible, which means a massive screen and 26% more movie in some scenes. You can view two comparisons between normal screens and the Lincoln Square IMAX below. Plus, the dual-laser projection creates astounding contrast. Yes, it’s pricey and the seats don’t recline, but the massive screen and sound quality more than make up for that fact. Just try to get tickets in the back 1/3rd of the theater; if you’re too close, you’ll be craning your head upwards during the whole show. And buy them early; since it’s the only true IMAX in the city, the best seats go quick.
Premium Experience Close To Home – Dolby Theater at AMC Magic Johnson (15 minute walk from campus, ~$18)
Dolby Theaters are AMC’s branded answer to IMAX. Though the screens aren’t much bigger than the typical theater, Dolby cinemas also boast dual-laser projection, creating impressive contrast, and Dolby Atmos sound, which is the best sound experience I’ve ever had in a theater. There are speakers covering the walls and the ceiling, and the sound mixing creates impressive immersion. Another bonus: the seats recline, though not all the way. Your legs come up at about a 45º angle and the back reclines about as much. It’s more comfortable than the IMAX seats, but nowhere near the luxury of full recliners.
The Dolby at AMC Magic Johnson is relatively new, which means the theater is clean and the picture and sound quality is up to par. However, I’d recommend against seeing movies in the standard format theaters at Magic Johnson; the projectors and sound are low-quality and the traditional seats are uncomfortable.
Everyday Luxury – AMC 84th Street (15 minutes from campus via 1 train, ~$20, $5 on Tuesdays) and Regal Times Square (20 mins from campus via 1 train, ~$17)
Both these theaters have good picture quality and the best recliner seats in the city. They’re wide, plush, and your feet come up all the way. Sometimes staying awake is a challenge, so make sure either you’re really interested in the movie or you got a good night’s sleep the night before. Still, the $5 Tuesday Ticket for the AMC 84th street is a killer deal; the downside is, everyone else knows this. Be sure to buy your tickets as early as possible so you get good seats; showtimes for Tuesday are usually up by the previous Wednesday night. Don’t worry if you’re stuck near the front, though; since the seats need room to extend, being a few rows back isn’t the worst, especially because your head comes comfortably down too.
Miscellaneous Other Recommendations
For a truly fun night out, check out the Alamo Drafthouse (1 -> 2,3 45 min, ~$18) or the Nitehawk (1 -> L, when it’s not fucked, ~$13). Both theaters offer food and drink delivery right to your seat; you simply write down what you want on a slip of paper using the small light shining on your lap, a waiter comes by to pick it up, and a short time later the food is delivered right to your seat! Be careful; Alamo has a very strict lateness/talking/cell phone use policy so be sure to be on time. For a fun day out, the Regal in Battery Park is located next to the Westfield Mall, which offers luxury shops to browse, Shake Shack on the block, and even ice-skating. Located inside the swanky Conrad hotel, this theater is a bit of a hidden gem; far from campus, but worth the trip in my opinion. Finally, the AMC on 18th street has seats that recline halfway but are also heated, and they get hot. On a really cold night, take the 1 down to 18th street and try it out for yourself.
I’ll also recommend against 3-D showings. Generally, 3-D movies appear much less bright than other showings, given that two images must be combined to make the 3-D effect. In my opinion, it’s rarely worth the price increase and much more of a gimmick than an artistic choice. Dolby and Lincoln Square IMAX are a much better use of the premium price.
If you’re after an indie movie and not something in wide release, you’re in luck, because New York often gets indie and foreign films. That generally involves going to smaller theaters though; the one-screen Paris Theatre (~$18) is only 25 minutes away from campus via the 1 train, the Angelika, a personal favorite, is further but worth it all the same. The IFC and Metrograph are both well-known theatres that show indie movies and documentaries as well, though their quality, in my opinion, is a bit last-century.
2. Which subscription service?
You’ve probably heard of MoviePass, the startup that gained millions of subscribers, and a whole host of headaches, after it slashed its prices from $50 to $10 a month for unlimited movies, no strings attached. That didn’t last long, as it was a clearly unsustainable business model, but they did succeed in changing the game; now a few other movie subscription services are available that drastically reduce the cost of avoiding your friends, family, and responsibilities. Here are the main three and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
My pick: AMC A*List
After MoviePass, for lack of a better word, exploded around last summer, I’ve been on AMC’s A*List. The offer: 3 movies a week at any AMC, premium formats and online reservations included, for $23.95/mo + tax, for at least 3 months. As you may have noticed from the above section, movies in NYC are expensive. Seeing 1 premium format movie a month will leave you about even; seeing two or more definitely gets you your money’s worth. And the free online reservations are a godsend; since just about every theater in the city has reserved seating, being able to reserve the best seats online is an essential perk. Though I miss having the ability to visit smaller, indie theaters, I’ve been very happy with the service for the 5 months I’ve had it.
- Premium formats included at no extra cost
- Online reservations with waived fees
- Theaters are close to campus
- Fair pricing
- Shorter lines for concessions for A*List members
- AMC is stingy with their points, much more so than Regal
- Unable to visit indie theaters, like IFC or the Angelika
- Must commit to three months
MoviePass was originally too good to be true; you were able to see a movie a day for $10 a month, with no restrictions on showtimes or how many times you could see a given movie, though only standard format movies were included and you had to buy the tickets on site. MoviePass then tried a bunch of changes in order to make their business, y’know, profitable, introducing surcharges and restricting certain showtimes. Now that the dust has mostly settled, MoviePass now offers three tiers at three different price points. Each includes 3 movies a month with no repeat viewings; at the lowest tier ($15/mo), they choose which movies you get to see for you. At the middle tier ($20/mo), the restrictions are lifted but it’s standard format only. At the top tier, ($25/mo), you get one premium format movie a month.
Honestly, I don’t see why any Columbia student would choose one of these plans. Unless you swear by Regal (which, I will say, is pretty generous with their points, though the only Tuesday deal is half-off popcorn) or only see indie movies at the Angelika, there’s really no reason to go with MoviePass over A*List. Hopefully they’ll figure out a better model to get back in the game.
I’m completed baffled by this service. Again, I strongly recommend A*List for your subscription needs, but if you’re truly curious, check out the FAQ on Reddit to gain some understanding of what’s going on.
3. Money-saving tips and other tricks
There are plenty of ways to save money on tickets and concessions to have a budget-friendly night out.
- AMC has steep discounts for Tuesday tickets. Regular format movies are only $5 (plus fees and subway fare), even for the reclining seats at 84th Street, and premium formats also greatly come down in price. This is the most budget-friendly way to see movies if you don’t go often and have time on Tuesdays. Though remember to buy the tickets as early as possible; the whole city knows how good a deal this is. Tuesday showtimes are usually on the AMC website by the preceding Wednesday night.
- AMC has free large popcorn and large soda coupons that you can buy on eBay. Instead of paying ~$8 for a large popcorn at the theatre, buy a coupon on eBay that people get from redeeming Coke Rewards (or redeem the coupon yourself if you drink a lot of soda). Plan ahead; most sellers ship the coupon within 24 hours, but they don’t expire for months, so if you know there’s a movie in your future, take some time now to save a few bucks.
- Go at weird times! Matinees before noon are generally cheaper, while more trafficked showtimes like weekend nights are pricier. It’s also nice being in an empty theater; no noise, no mess, and no distractions.
- Utilize points. Most theater chains have a free rewards program where you can redeem points from buying tickets for free size upgrades, popcorn, or even free tickets. Regal is more generous than AMC, especially if you go often, and if you go with friends be sure to steal their points if they don’t have an account and would otherwise let them go to waste.
- Most movies start around 20 minutes after the time listed on the ticket, while previews start at the stated time. If you like previews, get there in time to get your snacks and head inside by the listed time; if you don’t feel free to show up 15 minutes late so you have time to get settled before the movie starts.
- Most theaters don’t check bags for food, so feel free to bring a water bottle, snacks, or candy. Just look like you’re late to your movie when you go to get your ticket scanned and the ticket-taker will never bother you. They know how outrageous the prices are, too.
- Sit in the seat you bought! So many times I’ve gone to a reserved-seating theater just to find someone sitting in the seat I reserved. Don’t be afraid to show them your ticket and kick them out; it’s your seat, you deserve it. Plus, if you resign and sit nearby, chances are people will come to kick you out of that seat and you’ll all have to shuffle around. If you see empty seats you want to grab, assume someone is coming for them. As a last resort, check on your phone to see if the seats have been purchased. If not, you can cautiously claim them but again, expect to be moved.
- Go alone! Going to movies alone has been so destigmatized by subscription services that no one will look at you funny if you carry a large popcorn bucket in the theater just for yourself. It’s a great way to destress and completely immerse yourself in your entertainment; I often find that streaming Netflix on my computer doesn’t alleviate my stress since I’m still connected to notifications and constantly checking my phone. Taking a few hours to go to a movie really lets me relax, and I value that highly in our competitive environment.
That’s it for my movie guide; if you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email, and if you have your own recommendations leave them in the comments. Happy movie watching!