New Orleans has always had a big screen love affair with the movies. Hollywood South isn’t just a great place to make a movie, it’s also a great place to watch a movie. Though we do have the big multiplex cinemas with the biggest blockbusters around, New Orleans offers more than just the holiday tent-pole movies, so take a look at our favorite places to catch not only a superhero franchise, but the latest independent and art house offerings in our guide to the best New Orleans cinemas. (And don’t forget to check out the New Orleans Film Festival happening Oct. 12-20.)
1. The Prytania
This Uptown gem is the last remaining fully operational single screen cinema in the state of Louisiana and the oldest cinema in New Orleans, opening its doors in 1914. Proprietors Rene Brunet and his son Robert have lovingly maintained the theater — which has seen numerous fires and a 1960s facade and lobby upgrade that still today has its mid-century modern look — and their new seating, state of the art digital projection, and sound equipment make The Prytania one of the nicest facilities in town. Brunet wrote the book on New Orleans Movie Theaters and is a fixture of New Orleans cinema lore. He’s also a friendly face you can sometimes still see in the lobby.
Look for a diverse lineup of films: big Hollywood first-run movies fill the schedule, but regular special showings are this theatre’s specialty. Classic movies from Hollywood’s golden age are shown on Sundays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m., and they offer late night movies (with B.Y.O.B.) every Friday and Saturday night at midnight and Sundays at 10 p.m., including regular “Rocky Horror” nights twice a month with a shadow cast, and cult classics like “The Big Lebowski.” Currently, the Late Night Movies series is running the films of Hayao Miyazaki this September and October. The Prytania frequently hosts mini film festivals, local premieres of films, and special events, so check their calendar regularly. Find it just a couple of blocks off the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar line (from the Jefferson Avenue stop). It’s also easily walkable from wonderful casual dining options on Prytania Street and Magazine Street.
In the heart of Central City, Zeitgeist has been bringing art house cinema to New Orleans for 25 years. Located on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Zeitgeist is the place to see the latest in international cinema, winners from Cannes, documentaries and all things independent cinema, with directors and authors appearing for talkbacks often. Check out their schedule or give them a call (some films run in repertory while others only show for one night). Zeitgeist also hosts avant-garde jazz nights with some of the biggest names locally and nationally playing in their hall, and presents the New Orleans Middle East Film Festival each March, as well as having hosted the International Human Rights Film Fest, among others.
Date night usually means dinner and a movie for many folks. At Canal Place, one can enjoy both pleasures in the same venue at the foot of Canal Street in downtown New Orleans. The Theatres at Canal Place feature luxurious stadium seating in fine, oversized leather chairs, an adults-only (18+) policy all day, and a full menu of small plates, wines by the glass or bottle, and a craft cocktail bar at Gusto, the in-house cafe. You can grab a meal, snack or drinks before the show, or enjoy them delivered to your seat during the feature. In addition to all the gourmet specialties, they sell the familiar regular cinema concessions, too, though I’m partial to the Parmigiano and black pepper popcorn from Gusto. The Theatres feature a weekday Happy Hour and, like The Prytania, plays host to the New Orleans Film Festival in October.
New Orleans’ newest indie arthouse cinema is in Mid-City on Broad Street, near the Lafitte Greenway, and only a few blocks from Dooky Chase’s and Willie Mae’s Scotch House. It’s spiffy, newly renovated turn of the last century Spanish revival building, a community gathering place, with four modern auditoriums, and a spacious lobby with rotating local art and bar with simple cocktails, a great draft beer selection plus a full array of traditional movie concessions — all in a renovated. From Thursday to Sunday each week, a different food vendor pops up at the cinema. The Broad also features a weekly Thursday 11 a.m. matinee that is baby friendly, called BYO(B)aby, where you can pre-order a sushi lunch to enjoy while the film plays.
5. Film Series
What each of these local cinemas above have in common is they expand their offerings to guests beyond the blockbuster. Regular film series help bring more of the world of the movies to New Orleans, and enrich our city’s cultural landscape. The Prytania, in addition to featuring cult classics, presents a Friday & Saturday morning summer kids series, showing classics like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Mary Poppins” plus newer kids fare like “E.T.” and “The Muppet Movie.” They also present a French Film Festival, and Academy Award-nominated shorts and animated shorts series every year around Oscar time (in addition to re-running the year’s best picture nominees). Canal Place has featured regular mini-fests devoted to particular authors and directors like the Coen Brothers and Harold Ramis. Shotgun Cinema pops up frequently at different venues around town including the Urban South Brewery this November, featuring films from some of the world’s greatest directors including Wong Kar-wei and Jim Jarmusch.
This past summer, the Orpheum Theater, the gorgeous jewel box in downtown New Orleans offered a film series of classics like “Jaws” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and new films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
Outdoor film screenings happen regularly throughout the year across New Orleans. The New Orleans Film Society (which presents the hugely popular New Orleans Film Festival each October) has its Moonlight Movies series at rotating sites like the Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park and the Old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter or in Palmer Park in the Carrollton neighborhood of Uptown, showing classics like “Casablanca,” “Singing in the Rain,” and “Notorious,” as well as more recent crowd-pleasers like “Goonies” and “The Triplets of Belleville.” During Jazz Fest, the New Orleans Video Access Center has Sync Up Cinema with mostly music-oriented films showing at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
At the New Orleans Museum of Art, they offer seasonally throughout the year Movies in the Garden, in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden as part of their Friday Nights at NOMA series, which sometimes includes movies in the auditorium inside the museum.