Before we start the list, we want to make a few things clear. Our concept of "best" isn't just the fanciest or the most plush. We're evaluating the overall movie-going experience, not the building. We looked at several factors, including crowds, physical setting, cost, concessions (having full in-theater service wasn't a huge factor for this list) and selection of films. Some theaters made our list because they have fun crowds and a low-key atmosphere (translation: they are loud and nobody freaks if your kids spills a soda). Some theaters made our list because the crowds are a little more restrained and the ambiance more chic-chic (translation: the movie might be in French and the popcorn costs a lot).
And finally, no, non-profit or micro-cinemas such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston or Rice Cinema are not included here. That's a completely different type of movie-going experience ... and we might add, a completely different list.
10. Cinemark Tinseltown 290 12920 Northwest Freeway, 800-326-3264
You know who wants to go to a noisy, loud movie theater where people talk and (gasp!) text during the film? Other people who are noisy and loud, and who talk and text during the film. We admit that we usually like our movie theaters quiet but we know everyone isn't the same and some films invite more interaction than others. (We saw a horror film here recently and despite the audience's most earnest instructions to characters to "Run!" it still ended the same.) Of all the theaters that attract such a crowd, Cinemark Tinseltown continues to offer the cleanest, most comfortable environment. It also has low admission prices, good concessions offerings, plenty of space, a safe parking lot and a good selection of the more popular films.
We admit there's one more reason we like AMC 290 - a few years ago a snake got loose in the theater, forcing it to close down while a search party looked for it. It was never found. Rumor is it's been spotted once or twice since. (That would be worth texting about!)
9. FunAsia 15900 Yorktown Crossing Dr, 281-493-0390
8. Cinema Latino 2233 Southmore Ave, Pasadena, 888-588-2463
The two theaters at our number nine and eight spots, FunAsia and Cinema Latino, have a lot of the same qualities. If you want to see first run foreign language films, these two theaters should be on your list to visit.
FunAsia recently changed locations and its new digs are inviting, though not especially architecturally exciting. The theater has a Bollywood lineup with new releases in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and some English on the schedule. It's a comfortable environment (though it can get crowded for primetime screens of the most popular films). Expect a more varied concessions stand and take advantage of the theater's budget-friendly prices during the week.
Like FunAsia, Cinema Latino also offers first run foreign language films as wells dubbed or subtitled versions of all the latest American releases. It also has an expanded concessions stand and can get crowded during prime time screenings.
7. Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24 RPX 3839 Weslayan 713-871-8955
We like the Edwards Greenway Grand Palace, we really do, but we don't like having to pay for parking, we really don't. With offerings in setting, films, concessions and prices that are similar to the other big complex theaters, this about a far up our list as Edwards Greenway Grand Palace is getting.
6. Alamo Drafthouse/Vintage Park 114 Vintage Park , 832-559-5959
One of the newest theater complexes in Houston, Alamo Drafthouse/Vintage Park continues the Drafthouse tradition of offering great films and full service food options. Vintage Park management say it has a strict no talking/no texting rule, which seems to be enforced. There's more space in the theaters (the front row's placed further back than normal) and frequent special programming. It's also one of the few theaters in town that has the ability to screen archival 35mm prints.
5. Santikos Silverado IMAX 24720 Tomball Parkway, 866-420-8626
Santikos Silverado IMAX looks like tourists think a Texas movie theater should look like - it's big and loud and busy. It's also a great family theater with special offerings for kids during the day (it keeps them out of the prime time showings) and a varied film line-up. Santikos gets big points for its fun factor.
4. Sundance Cinemas Houston 510 Texas, 713-223-3456
There are a couple of reasons Sundance Cinemas Houston isn't at the top spot. It offer wonderful films including a series of festival winners not seen elsewhere in Houston, comfortable theaters, a lobby worth spending time in, an art gallery, good concession choices and the crowd it attracts is fine. That's the good stuff. The bad stuff is parking can be a problem There isn't always a lot of it and almost all of it is paid parking (yes, the theater staff will reimburse you for any parking fee), assigned seating discourages spur of the moment visits and - maybe this is just us - but we still haven't gotten over the surcharge issue. Wanna charge $12.50 for the movie, just charge $12.50 for the movie, not $10.50 plus a surcharge.
3. AMC Studio 30 2949 Dunvale, 713-977-4431
AMC Studio 30 has got to have the largest selection of films in the city. Yes, other theaters have lots of screens, too, but they double-book films so one really popular movie plays in three or four theaters at the same time. That's great for offering visitors more starting times, but it cuts down on the number of different films on the schedule. AMC Studio frequently offers foreign language films, both Bollywood and Latin American releases.
Also AMC Studio is home to the World Fest film festival. Every year, it turns over a large number of its theaters to the festival for back-to-back independent film screenings, including international films.
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2. Edwards Houston Marq*E Stadium 23 & IMAX 7600 Katy Freeway, 713-263-7843
Marq*E makes our list as one of the most fun theaters to visit. True it has an unfair advantage in before/after screening options for entertainment because the complex has several restaurants and shops right out its door, but its size, variety in offerings, and more or less quiet crowds make it our number two choice for a movie-going experience. There are lots of box office choices, including self-ticketing which is nice, so viewers don't spend a lot of time standing in line.
1. Landmark River Oaks 2009 West Gray, 713- 524-2175
There's no surprise here. Landmark's River Oaks theater is the perfect mix of environment and offerings. The historic building's interior recalls the grand movie palaces of yesteryear, although it was long ago sectioned off to allow for more screens. Parking might require a trip around the block once or twice, but it's free. The films are always popular-but-sometimes-hard-to-find releases, with frequent exclusives and foreign language films. Concessions are what you'd expect in any boutique cinema, but the prices are still manageable and you get friendly service.