The Bay Area's Gimmickyest Movie Theaters

Audience in a cinema
Audience in a cinema | © Sarah Hadley / Alamy Stock Photo
Samuel Sexton

Movie theaters in the Bay Area are trying gimmick after gimmick to lure audiences away from the easy option of home entertainment. Here are a few of the more intriguing examples.

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Century 20 Redwood City’s D-Box Seats

Amusement Park, Park

Whereas some modern movie theaters try to emulate the home-viewing experience as much as possible, Century Theaters has taken almost the exact opposite approach for their new feature: D-Box seats. Via advance reservation, you can sit in a vibrating seat that will shake you around a little bit during exciting moments. As the herky-jerky lobby demo shows, it’s not going to make you feel like you’re “in the movie” as advertised, but it does add an amusement park ride element to the atmosphere. It’s worth trying at least once, especially for more bombastic films.

Century 16 Mountain View’s Recliners

Cinema, Movie Theater, Theater
Surrounded by the high trees and google bikes one would expect from Mountain View, the Century 16 Shoreline Theater uses a very different tactic from its younger Redwood City sibling. Rather than create a gimmick unique to the movie theater, the reserved reclining seats add an element to the movie-watching experience normally reserved for watching movies at home: the ability to stretch out your feet. With plush, comfy footrests and a slight reclining feature, watching the newest blockbusters has never felt more comfortable.

Aquarius Theater’s Luxury Seating and eclectic film selection

Movie Theater, Theater
Few California towns embody an obsession with originality more than Palo Alto. Accordingly, the Aquarius Theater shows a refreshingly bizarre combination of new indie films, live shows, and obscure films from the 1990s. Drawing a small but loyal audience, this theater offers similar reclining seats to the Shoreline theater and is just blocks from dozens of excellent restaurants.

The Alameda Theater’s Restaurant and Music

Cinema, Theater
The worst part about theater food isn’t just that it’s incredibly overpriced — it’s that most of it is just stuff you can get anywhere else, whether it’s candy, hot dogs, or even a sacred cow like buttered popcorn. The same cannot be said for The Alameda Theater, with its in-house restaurant called the Cinema Grill. Not many movie theaters boast all of the modern hits and a restaurant and bar with sliders and local band performances.

Camera 3’s Psycho Donuts Connection

Camera 3 in San Jose offers innovative arthouse films and innovative patisserie fare from the nearby Psycho Donuts. The aptly-named bakery believes, correctly, that there is no such thing as too many toppings, with donuts covered in frosting, cereal, candies, cookies, and any other number of delicious morsels that create both an unrivaled treat to accompany any movie and a jitter-inducing sugar high.

The New Parkway’s Cobbled-Together Everything

Cinema, Theater, Building, Movie Theater
Oakland’s New Parkway Theater, named in honor of the now-shuttered Parkway Speakeasy, has a misleading name. Eclectic, rather than new, seems like the most apt adjective. The building is an old warehouse converted to showcase a wide variety of films, from newer features to indies and classics. The seating varies dramatically, with options ranging from office recliners and couches to beanbags. The concession stand sells stand-bys like candy and popcorn, but also offers amenities like tofu hoagies, local brews, and pizza. Even the movies are only part of the theater’s offerings, with regular events ranging from comedy to events showcasing local artists. One thing’s for sure: The New Parkway offers something completely and utterly unique for a movie theater.

The Stanford Theatre’s Focus on Days Gone By

Cinema, Movie Theater, Theater, University
With so many theaters trying to fight against the passage of time and recapture the control they used to hold over the motion picture scene, the Stanford Theater’s approach is perhaps the most ironic: they simply refuse to leave the past. Everything about this theater — its modest concession stand that offers small amounts of popcorn, its run-down but still glamorous facade, and its revolving selection of classics from the golden age of cinema — is reminiscent of the origin of the movie theater as a powerful cultural force. Strangely enough, this refusal to adapt to a changing landscape is almost enough to overcome the myriad forces laid against it. When it comes to the work of Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, and Akira Kurosawa, there’s no better way to watch a movie than in the Stanford Theater with a bag of popcorn.

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