Best Arthouse Cinemas in Seattle

Seattle skyline
Seattle skyline | © Inge Johnsson / Alamy Stock Photo
Samantha Ladwig

Arthouse cinemas may have creaky chairs, smaller screens, and the occasional funky smell thanks to the old buildings they occupy, but for film enthusiasts they’re a cinematic haven. Their calendars are often a curated mix of old and new films, and their food and beverage options are usually locally sourced.

Like so many other city specific offerings, the exclusivity of independent movie theaters adds to a city’s uniqueness. In Seattle, these are the eight arthouse cinemas that bring character to its culture.

1. SIFF Cinema Uptown

Cinema, Movie Theater

The SIFF Cinema Uptown theater—the original of three of SIFF Cinema venues—is a film enthusiast’s hub. From its Cinema Dissection to Screenplay Competition, the Queen Anne institution works to bring filmmakers of all ages together not only to watch film, but explore it. SIFF Cinema is also home to the Seattle International Film Festival, the biggest international film festival in the nation. It’s no wonder locals praise the independent theater for its exciting and fresh movie circulation.

2. Grand Illusion Cinema

Cinema, Movie Theater

© Patrick Richardson Wright / Grand Illusion Cinema

Named one of the best movie houses by Paste Magazine in 2009, the Grand Illusion Cinema is the longest running independent theater in the city of Seattle. The 70-seat theater draped in red velvet sits in the University District. The one of a kind theater offers a mix of Hollywood classics, cult favorites, documentaries, and foreign language films.

3. Admiral Theater

Cinema, Movie Theater

Admiral marquee for reopening
© Admiral Theater

The Admiral Theater in the West Seattle neighborhood has been running since 1942. Once a two-screen theater, the Admiral recently underwent a number of restorations, enlarging it to four screens. But it still retained a great deal of its original nautical charm, like its sea-horse chandeliers and 1940s murals. While it used to be a budget theater showing older movies for pennies, it now circulates new releases.

4. The Majestic Bay

Movie Theater

© The Majestic Bay

The Majestic Bay theatre, located in the Ballard neighborhood, is an intimate triplex movie theater featuring Dolby Digital sound and wall-to-wall screens. Built in 1914, the theatre offers the most recent movies like Marvel blockbusters and Disney motion pictures. The Majestic Bay melds classic nautical-themed architecture with modern electronics to create a unique and worthwhile moviegoing experience.

5. Northwest Film Forum

Cinema, Movie Theater

The Future is 0 crowd in cinema 1
© Northwest Film Forum

The Northwest Film Forum, located in the center of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, is more than just a theater, it’s a community of movie lovers and filmmakers. The intimate theater hosts a number of film festivals like the Local Sighting Film Festival, events with Seattle directors like Megan Griffiths, and filmmaking workshops. The Northwest Film Forum curates both indie and classic films.

6. Central Cinema

Movie Theater

© Kevin Spitzer / Central Cinema

Central Cinema is a dine-in movie theater that offers everything from beer and wine to popcorn and candy to pizza and burgers. The movie theater’s program is a carefully curated mix of adored classics like The Philadelphia Story and Some Like it Hot, to more recent comedies like Step Brothers and Bring it On. It’s situated on the Eastern edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, tucked behind a small row of shops. It’s intimate location is perfect for any retro date night.

7. SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Cinema, Movie Theater

The SIFF Cinema Egyptian, formerly known as the Egyptian Theatre, is a Capitol Hill neighborhood hotspot. Its one-screen theatre offers everything from restored classics to recent releases, to midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Built in 1915, the Seattle institution started out as a Masonic temple that hosted wrestling matches to raise money. That is, until the the 1980s when the space, after some redecoration, became the movie theater Seattleites know it as today.

8. Varsity Theater

Cinema, Movie Theater

In the University District, the Varsity Theater sits directly on the University District Avenue, or as University of Washington students like to call it, “The Ave.” In 2015, the theater underwent a series of renovations and is now able to screen 35mm and 3-D films, which they don’t charge an additional fee per ticket to enjoy. From independent movies to cult classics and recent blockbuster releases, the three-screen Varsity Theater cycles through an array of films sure to please any moviegoer.

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