The 5 Best Movie Theaters in Oakland

Photo of Chelsa Lauderdale
29 November 2016

Sometimes there’s nothing better than going out to see a film, but spending $26 on a tub of popcorn and sitting in a dark room with strangers probably isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Oakland, and the Bay Area in general, is home to some of the oldest, most historic, and community-oriented theaters in the country, making it the perfect place to see a film, make new friends, and cut your wallet a break!

New Parkway Theater | © Chelsa Lauderdale

The New Parkway Theater

Cinema, Theater, Building, Movie Theater
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BW Chicago
BW Chicago | © Flickr
The New Parkway Theater is undoubtably one of Oakland’s best kept secrets. The theater strives to bring back a sense of community in the Downtown Oakland area, a throwback to the original Parkway Theater that was open from 1996-2009. New Parkway does just that, by blending delicious food and drink, a variety of regular community events, and of course, a movie for everyone. While New Parkway does show a couple of big budget features weekly, they also offer an ever-changing schedule of indie, cult, anime, kids, and classic films. Movies generally cost between $8 and $10 dollars, and they offer $1 off to students, seniors, and cyclists who bring their helmet in. Check out the theater on Karma Cinema Night, every Wednesday and pay what you can with 20% of donations benefiting an Oakland nonprofit. The menu at New Parkway’s café comes complete with not only theater standards like popcorn and candy, but a full range of delicious meals and a wide variety of beers, ciders, and wines from local breweries and wineries. The mystery meal is always a fun choice, offered in meat, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options! Even the screening rooms themselves are on a different level than the traditional movie-going experience, trading in those uncomfortable stand-alone theater seats for comfy couches, love-seats, even bean bag chairs! If a movie just isn’t fitting the mood check out New Parkway’s daily community event calendar to see what’s happening on the theater’s mezzanine.

Grand Lake Renaissance Theater

Cinema, Theater, Movie Theater
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Almost every year, Grand Lake Renaissance Theatre wins the East Bay Express’ “best place to see a movie” award, and it’s easy to see why. Take a step inside the Renaissance theatre and immediately feel like you’ve been transported back to the golden age of cinema. Listed as one of the top ten vintage theatres in the country, Grand Lake first opened it’s doors in 1926 to the vaudeville and silent movie crowd. Over the years, and with few modifications, the Grand Lake theater remains as magnificent as it was in its day, though the movies it plays has definitely changed. Grand Lake is the theater to go to to see a big budget 21st century film in a 1920’s setting, down to the heavy velvet curtains, ornate decor, and orchestra pit at the front of the stage where the projector screen hangs. Perhaps the best feature of the Grand Lake theatre is the ticket price. General admission tickets are $11, $6 for a matinee and $5 all day on Tuesday, extending to those expensive 3D flicks as well. Check out the theater on a Wednesday for a free bag of popcorn with ticket purchase to get even more bang for your buck. For a truly different experience, get to the theater a little early to a Friday or Saturday evening showing and enjoy the wait to the sounds of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ in the main auditorium. The fun doesn’t stop at the movies either, as Grand Lake Theatre sits right in the heart of the beautiful Lake Merritt shopping district, with an array of shops, views, and attractions for the whole family.

AMC Bay Street 16

Bridge, Movie Theater
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Piedmont Theatre
Piedmont Theatre | © Chelsa Lauderdale
While technically right outside the border of Oakland in the nearby city of Emeryville, this AMC location has made it to this list for one reason, and one reason only. This one’s for you, adults of legal drinking age! Though this theater closely resembles every other AMC in the country, this one is very special because it comes complete with a full bar. That’s right, think of a favorite drink and the bartenders at this AMC can whip one up for you (ask for the Black Superman, go on, I dare you). The biggest surprise is that, unlike the outrageously overpriced concessions, the cocktails are actually reasonably priced more along the lines of some of the bars of SF’s financial district. Of course, that’s not the only good thing about this theater, but it is the best thing. This AMC location, like many of its counterparts, offers plenty of great amenities, like reclining theater seats and generally clean restrooms and facilities. The staff are always pleasant and helpful and they will always have the latest and biggest films, if price isn’t a problem. This location sits right at the head of the Bay Street shopping center, making it a perfect place to spend the day, and the close proximity to the Bay Bridge and city of Berkeley make it easy to explore the surrounding cities!

Piedmont Theater

Building, Movie Theater
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Paramount Theatre Interior 2
Paramount Theatre Interior 2 | © Wikicommons
Piedmont Avenue is another great place to spend a day with the family, a long street full of independently owned shops, restaurants, and city landmarks, like Fenton’s Creamery and, of course, the Piedmont Theatre. Piedmont Theatre opened in 1917, effectively making it the oldest operating theatre in Oakland. Now, nearly 100 years later, Piedmont Theatre continues its long tradition of honoring films and filmmaking by showing a handpicked selection of indie, art-house, and Hollywood films every night. Check out the theatre’s website for information on what’s currently showing, as well as access to their exclusive filmmaker letters archive and film club Q&A podcast. For extra goodies, check out a film on a Saturday night for weekly giveaways from local merchants and film-related memorabilia. Still, be sure to stop by Piedmont Theatre if ever on the ave, even if for nothing more than to simply marvel at the historic building itself.

Paramount Theatre of the Arts

Cinema, Theater
Map View
Another one for the history books, Paramount Theatre has had its roots in the Oakland community since Timothy L. Pflueger finished its design in 1931. Built in the depression era, it is known to be one of the first buildings of the time to merge the works of a number of artists in its creation. While it fell into disrepair for a long period, it was eventually taken over by the City of Oakland and Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association in 1972, and entered the “national register of historic places” in the following year. Within just 3 years the theater moved up the scale to become a California historical landmark, and finally, a national landmark in 1977. True to its name, Paramount Theatre of the Arts is a place for the viewing of many different forms of art. Their schedule includes a full slate of musicians, stage plays, and, of course, films. Certain Fridays, Paramount Theatre offers a classic film, in an artistically masterful, theatre setting, for the meagre price of $5. Come early to experience the full grandeur of the theatre, as every classic movie night ticket comes complete with “35mm film prints, a newsreel, cartoon, previews, and fabulous prizes in the Paramount’s own game of chance “Dec-O-Win.” Top that all off with a selection played on their Mighty Wulitzer organ, and you’ve got the full classic movie going experience. Even when no shows are slated, take a guided theatre tour to experience the glory of this American artistic landmark. Tours are offered the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of every month for the same price as the movies.

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