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Everything you need to know before you rent a movie theater

“I feel there is no substitute for going out to the movies. There is nothing like it.” Steven Spielberg

Going to the movies looks a lot different than it used to look. For many of us isolating at home during the pandemic, we haven’t seen the inside of a movie theater in over a year. 

Let’s face it: sure, we love hanging at home with our stream team and binge-watching movies all night, but we desperately miss the kind of excitement that only a great movie theater experience can bring.

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The closure of movie theaters across the country meant that many 2020 movie releases were forced to go straight to streaming, some of which include: Disney’s Mulan, Disney Pixar’s SoulBorat Subsequent Moviefilm, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Miss JuneteenthI Am Woman, Run, and more; the much-anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Bros.) became the first movie to be released on HBO Max in tandem with its theatrical release. 

As the year wore on, major movie theater chains had to rethink the entire experience and seemed to collectively settle on the idea of movie theater rentals. Once it was safe to open again for business at a limited capacity, movie theaters opened their doors to private bookings offering a first-class experience.

We get it: renting a movie theater feels like an extravagance that is completely out of reach for the average person. But not anymore! 

How to rent a movie theater near you

Movie theaters big and small are offering the perfect way to celebrate a child’s birthday, a bachelorette party, an engagement, the holiday season, or “just because” with loved ones through private movie theater rentals. More and more, local movie houses and larger movie theater chains have personalized the movie-going experience in new ways.  

Here’s how to rent a movie theater near you, including some surprisingly affordable options:

AMC allows you to rent a private movie theater where people could “host private parties for up to 20 total guests in a safe, clean auditorium.” AMC’s Safe & Clean™ promise means theaters are thoroughly cleaned and ready to welcome up to 20 people starting 15 minutes before your start time. Current AMC movie theater rentals start at $149.99, but hosts can also choose from AMC’s selection of fan fave films which start at just $99. Check here for availability and pricing at your local AMC movie theater.

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Cinemark (which includes Century Theatres, Tinseltown, CinéArts, and Rave Cinemas) offers private movie theater rentals for a Private Watch Party starting at just $99. Its Premium Private Screenings offer guests the opportunity to host a movie watch party at up to 50% of the movie theater’s capacity.  You choose the day and time and which blockbuster movie you want to see. An onsite event coordinator is there to assist your group. Physical distancing and enhanced cleaning and safety protocols are a top priority.

Cineplex Movie Entertainment (which includes Cineplex Cinemas, Cineplex Odeon, SilverCity, Galaxy Cinemas, Cinema City, Famous Players, Scotiabank Theatres, and Cineplex VIP Cinemas) offers movie theater rentals as “Private Movie Nights with Your Movie, Your Bubble, Your Theatre.” The “Book Now” link is simple to use, with a 3-step process to select your showtime, pick a movie, and check out. Movie screenings start at $125 and vary based on day, your local movie theater, and other factors; discounted concessions like movie theater popcorn are also part of the deal. Strict safety protocols have been established to keep guests safe.

You can even rent a movie theater to play video games

Renters aren’t just using the theaters for movies, either. 

Turns out, gamers are taking the opportunity to rent a movie theater for a more immersive experience, enjoying the sound and the amazing optics that can only be found in a movie theater environment. 

Are you a gamer? The beauty of the world of esports is it was designed for these remote pandemic times. Misfits Gaming Group competes in video game titles worldwide. You can create your own amateur league with nearby friends and find a movie theater to rent and game together while staying physically distanced!

Gamespot shared how Memphis-based Malco Theaters allows up to 20 people to rent a screen for 2-3 hours. Malco is also following CinemaSafe guidelines and has locations in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Kentucky. Reserve your private gaming session here.

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Questions to ask before you rent a movie theater

Here are some questions to ask your local movie theater before you rent a movie theater:

  1. What movies are available to me?
  2. Can I watch any movie I want, including old or classic films?
  3. What is the seating arrangement for a movie theater rental?
  4. How long do we have in the theater?
  5. Are food and drink available to our group? If so, is it an added cost?
  6. Will there be employees there to provide concessions?
  7. Can we bring our own food and drink into the theater?
  8. Are there any hidden fees?
  9. Do I have to pay in full up front?

Hometown movie theaters are timeless treasures with movie theater rental options, too

Independently owned movie theatres are a hub of entertainment in the heart of many cities and town centers across the U.S. They offer a smaller, simpler movie experience and provide alternative choices like movie classics and holiday favorites to enjoy each year. Many of these local movie theaters also provide additional entertainment opportunities through unique experiences you won’t find at the big movie theaters, plus art-house movies offering independent filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work to an audience.

The Newtown Theatre in Newtown, PA is the oldest, continually operating movie theater in the United States dating back to 1831. Today, it’s a beautifully quaint 300-seat historic theatre offering unique movie and entertainment experiences that draw big crowds from near and far — and the ability to rent it out for your own private viewing party or special event. 

Pre-pandemic, the movie theater used its historic stage to entertain guests with comedy nights, concerts, stage theatre, fundraisers, and other special movie events. It’s also a popular place for first dates and wedding proposals.

“We’re a hometown theatre, so we’re always looking to create something you can’t get from Netflix or a big chain theater,” said Andy Smith, Manager of The Newtown Theatre. “We host a lot of holiday-themed movie events, as well as old classics you won’t see in big theatres like Ghostbusters, Airplane! and Night of the Living Dead.  Often, we try to make an occasion out of the movies we show and invite the community to have some fun when they come. For instance, at one Disney movie showing, we offered a ticket discount to all children who dressed in a Disney costume. Another event we hosted was an over-21-only Elf movie showing on a Friday night in December; each attendee received two drinks and a bag of popcorn with admission.  That event sold out quickly and was so much fun.”

Newtown Theatre isn’t the only local movie theater offering special events––plenty of local theaters across the country are finding creative ways to engage their communities. Make sure to research the local movie theater near you to see what events they are hosting!

Get nostalgic with drive-in and outdoor theater movie experiences

What’s old is new again. Until recently, drive-in movie theaters were fast becoming a memory of a time gone by when teens would go to drive-in movies on a date or with friends nearly every weekend. 

Who can forget the iconic scene in the movie Grease when Danny (John Travolta) takes Sandy (Olivia Newtown-John) to a drive-in movie to try and repair the relationship after he ditched her at the dance competition? It didn’t work out so well. The date was over before the movie began. The famous scene had its own song,  featuring animated images of popsicles, ice cream cups, hot dogs, and other snack bar items dancing in the background on-screen during the movie previews. 

Or how about The Outsiders when Ponyboy and the rest of the Greasers sneak into the drive-in?

Drive-in and outdoor movie theater opportunities, when you can find them, are awesome. As the weather warms up, check out your local cities, townships, or parks & recreation departments to see if they offer drive-in or outdoor movie nights for some good family fun in the outdoors. If you can’t find a traditional drive-in experience, look for public golf courses that offer drive-in movies using golf carts instead of cars. Some local theaters, like Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville, FL, are doing drive-in movie theater showings in addition to indoor viewing options.

Looking for this experience on vacation? Disney World is famous for its amazing “Movies Under the Stars” events that typically happen nightly at various hotels within the park. Check with your hotel to confirm as some recreational events have been postponed due to the pandemic.

Most major cities also utilize open space in warmer weather to offer free movie-in-the-park events like this one at Bryant Park in New York City, or this one which occurs seasonally in local parks throughout the city of Chicago, or this one happening in neighborhood parks all over Austin, TX.  

Coastal towns are also big on the outdoor movie entertainment, setting up some amazing outdoor movie events, like Avalon, NJ’s Big Beach Movies, where many people ride a bike, bring a towel, and grab a seat in the sand to watch retro faves like Jaws, Goonies, and Back to the Future.

Since the pandemic, people have gotten creative by imagining new ways to experience old