Sign In
Roxie Theater © Bit Boy/Flickr
Roxie Theater © Bit Boy/Flickr
Save to wishlist

The Roxie Theater, San Fransisco's Indie Film Hub

Picture of Courtney Holcomb
Updated: 5 January 2017
The Roxie is a non-profit, independent theater, a haven for film and other arts in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district. Home to a number of local film festivals and avid embracer of the weird, we explore its tawdry, tumultuous history as the oldest continually operating movie theater in the US.

The Roxie has been in operation since 1909, exploring a multitude of genres under a variety of proprietors. According to its website, ‘Over the course of 106 years, the Roxie has been home to virtually every aspect of cinema. We continue to shine in our community as a beacon of unwavering independence, originality, and integrity. Guided from the start by crazy visionaries who pursued dreams over profit, we strive to keep the weird and wonderful alive in our little corner of San Francisco.’

16th & Valencia © Jeorge Jordan/Flickr
16th & Valencia | © Jeorge Jordan/Flickr

The 300-seat theater is located at the thriving intersection of 16th Street and Valencia, where it was opened in 1909 as the C. H. Brown Theater. It kept this original name until 1912, when it was taken over by watchmaker Philip H. Doll and renamed the Poppy Theater. The Poppy stuck until 1916, when it became the New 16th Street, and then the Rex in 1920. After the Rex came the Gem in 1926, the Gaiety in 1930, and finally, the Roxie in 1933.

The 1933 renovation brought about the theater’s iconic neon marquee, unusual in the fact that it leaves no space to display the titles the theater is showing. Unlike most theaters in the 1930s, it didn’t list its showings in the newspaper, instead relying on locals to stop in and see what was playing. In the decades to come it would become a second-run theater, showing mainstream films after they had already left the city’s major theaters, and by the end of the 1950s it had become a niche theater showing German-language films.

Roxie Theater © Cyril Fluck/Flickr
Roxie Theater | © Cyril Fluck/Flickr

Toward the end of the 1960s, the neighborhood’s income levels took a dive, proving detrimental to the Roxie, and in a state of desperation the theater began showing pornography. This tawdry time lasted for about eight years until a group of Russian-Americans took over the theater and began showing Russian-language movies. Finally, the theater was taken over in March 1976 by a group of local community leaders who turned it into a hub for art and independent film.

This phase of the Roxie’s history lasted until 2005, when the theater was acquired by the Mission’s liberal arts school, the New College of California. While technically retaining the Roxie title, the theater was adapted into the school’s media studies program and officially called the Roxie Film Center at New College during this time. In 2008, though, New College announced its closure. Ownership of the theater transferred to one of the school’s board members and his son. The new owners applied for non-profit status and officially received it in 2009, since when it has focused its efforts on showing some of the most important, socially-relevant films of the age.

The theater’s website declares its mission, stating: ‘[The Roxie] brings people together to meet and connect through distinctive cinematic experiences. Guided by the passionate belief that engaging with a movie doesn’t end with the credits, we invite filmmakers, curators, entertainers and educators to interact with our audiences. We provide inspiration and opportunity for the next generation, and serve as a forum for the independent film community reflecting the spirit of the diverse Bay Area population.’

The Mission embodies this by bringing to life a number of the city’s favorite film festivals, including Frameline Film Festival, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the Arab Film Festival, SF Indiefest, and many more. A list of the films screened at the Roxie over time has been archived on the theater’s website, which you can browse here. San Francisco has declared its appreciation for the theater by making it a landmark.

The theater has become home to a number of other projects in recent years. The Roxie opened a smaller theater next door, featuring just 49 seats and called the Little Roxie. The theater established RoxCine, embracing the Mission district’s hispanic roots with a Spanish-language film program. The company has also established its own independent film distribution project, called Roxie Releases, and is creating a new mini festival called the Roxie Mixtape.

If you’re interested in visiting the theater, regular show tickets are available for $12 and Little Roxie tickets are available for $10. Snacks and drinks are available onsite, including beer and cider. Parking is available at the 16th & Hoff garage. Interested in becoming a Roxie member? Find out how here, or check out the other ways you can support the non-profit theater here.