Summer is movie season. Blockbusters, multi-million-dollar remakes, and sequels to sequels, it’s common knowledge that a good way to spend at least a portion of your summer is at the movies.

But with ticket prices north of 10 dollars in many of the franchise multiplexes around the city, not to mention the extra fees tacked on for 3-D features, Portland cinephiles might need to look elsewhere to get their film fix if they have any interest in keeping some of their hard-earned money.

Luckily, Portland doesn’t lack for alternatives to the franchise multiplex. The many independently owned and operated theaters around the city offer films of all types, often at reduced prices and in unique, even historical locations.

Like most things in Portland, the independent theater offerings are varied depending on the quadrant of the city or the neighborhood. Here’s a rundown of some of Portland’s best independent theaters for all kinds of moviegoers.

Best Neighborhood Theater: Academy Theater

The Academy Theater in Montavilla
The Academy Theater in Montavilla

Located between 78th and 80th on SE Stark, the Academy Theater, one of Portland’s numerous historical theaters, is well removed from the crowds of downtown, and east of the foot-traffic heavy Hawthorne and Belmont shopping districts. Situated in the friendly, up-and-coming Montavilla neighborhood, the Academy Theater is the epitome of a neighborhood theater.

The Academy Theater features a fully remodeled interior and an exterior that maintains the building’s original 1940s charm, housing three individual theaters that run high-quality Dolby sound and feature reclining, stadium-style seating. The Academy Theater’s offerings trend toward second-run Hollywood fare, but also included among its daily shows are a limited selection of foreign and independent films.

Pizza from Flying Pie Pizzeria, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, fresh fruits and salads, ten microbrews, wine, and other beverages makes the Academy Theater dinner and a movie in a single location. Birthday party packages, for adults and kids, make the Academy Theater a welcome location for special events. And the capper: on-site babysitting. Between Thursday and Sunday, for shows starting before 8 p.m. and at a cost of $7.50 per child, the Academy Theater will watch your kids between the ages of six months and eight years old.

The Academy Theater finishes out its Summer Relief Movie Series with Wayne’s World the week of July 22.

Ticket Prices: $4.00 for adults, $3.00 for senior citizens and kids 12 and under

Helpful Hint: Call ahead to reserve baby-sitting services. The Academy Theater does not accept babysitting drop-ins.

Academy Theater, 7818 SE Stark Street, 503.252.0500

Best Catchall Theater: Laurelhurst Theater

Laurelhurst Theater in Buckman
Laurelhurst Theater in Kerns

The brainchild of Portland natives Prescott Allen and Woody Wheeler, the Laurelhurst Theater is like an amalgam of all of Portland’s independent theaters. Operational in its current format since 2000, the Laurelhurst Theater features pizza, beer, and wine, along with major Hollywood second-runs, independent movies, foreign films, documentaries, cult classics, and the occasional film event.

“We play films that we want to see,” Allen says. “A lot of times, you can only play what’s available, but in general, in a perfect world, we’d have a couple of Hollywood type films we’d have a couple independent films, and more art-house type films.”

The Laurelhurst Theater features four screens playing eight movies at a time. Shows before 6 p.m. are open to all, but evening screenings, around 7 and 9 p.m., are 21 and over. Film runs last at least a week. The Laurelhurst Theater uses a sister café that supplies fresh pizza and features a beer list that is all local except for Sierra Nevada and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Ticket Prices: $4.00 general admission, $3.00 for seniors and shows before 6 p.m., $2 for children 12 and under

Helpful Hint: Bring your ID if you’re going at night. The Laurelhurst Theater is strictly 21 and over for its evening shows. Children are allowed with parents for matinee showings Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Laurelhurst Theater, 2735 East Burnside, 503.232.5511

Best Theater for Urban Sophisticates: Living Room Theaters

Living Room Theaters in Downtown
Living Room Theaters in downtown's West End.

Of all the sectors of the city, downtown has the fewest independent theaters. Home to three Regal multiplexes that show almost every movie available, downtown can be an expensive venture for the casual movie fan. One theater, on the corner of 10th and Stark has the answer to both spendy Hollywood movies, and ho-hum multiplexes.

Living Room Theaters has been showing films since 2006 and operates only digital projectors. Located on a street that has seen a significant facelift in the last few years, notably the addition of the Ace Hotel and the opening of Clyde Common, Living Room Theaters is urban sophistication to the nth degree.

Showing a selection of independent movies, foreign films, and limited-release documentaries and featuring a gourmet kitchen and full bar, Living Room Theaters lives up to its stated goal of being a theater for all senses. The menu includes such items as bay shrimp and avocado salad, lemongrass flank steak skewers, homemade ice cream from Fifty Licks, Missionary Chocolates’ handmade vegan truffles, and a variety of beverages both alcoholic and otherwise.   

Don’t be turned off by all the highbrow hype though. Living Room Theaters is one of the few independent theaters in town with 3-D capabilities, so you’ll get your Hollywood fix from time to time.

Living Room Theaters does strive for ultimate indie cred, though, soliciting submissions from local filmmakers. If you’ve got a good digital screener, Living Room Theaters could be the place to launch your career.

Ticket Prices: $9.00 regular, $7.00 matinee (before 5:00 p.m.), $6.00 for students and educators with ID and seniors (65+), $5.00 Monday and Tuesday special (except public holidays and 3-D)

3D Films: $12 regular, $10 matinees (before 4:00 p.m.), $10 children ages 3-12 (all day)

Helpful Hint: Get to the theater early if you want to eat while you watch. Living Room Theaters requests ordering 30 minutes before show time for in-theater service.

Living Room Theaters, 341 SW 10th Avenue, 503.222.2010

Best Theater to See First-Run Movies: St. Johns Twin Cinemas

St Johns Twin Cinemas in St Johns
St. Johns Twin Cinemas in North Portland

Hidden way down at the end of Lombard in the northernmost corner of Portland, St. Johns Twin Cinemas may just be the city’s best-kept secret. Offering two screens, a marquee that features first-run Hollywood titles, and Portland independent theater staples pizza, beer, popcorn, and candy, St. Johns Twin Cinemas is probably the best place in town to catch summer blockbusters.

Open to all ages before 8 p.m., and 21 and over for everything after that, St. Johns Twin Cinemas is a great bet for open seats for big releases that might be sold out on the other side of town.

Nestled among the coffee shops, restaurants, and retail stores of downtown St. Johns, Twin Cinemas exemplifies a neighborhood business.

But St. Johns Twin Cinemas isn’t one to be outdone by the big-time theaters. They will be hosting a midnight showing of the super-hyped western sci-fi mashup Cowboys & Aliens on July 28.

Ticket Prices: $4.00 general admission all shows before 6 p.m., $6.00 general admission all shows after 6 p.m.

Helpful Hint: Get to know the St. Johns neighborhood! Make it a night with a burrito or a $1 taco at Tienda Santa Cruz, or go early and grab a milkshake at Pattie’s Home Plate Café, just two of the restaurants that make St. Johns one of Portland’s truly special neighborhoods.

St. Johns Twin Cinemas, 8704 N Lombard Street, 503.286.1768

Best Art House Only Theater: Cinema 21

Cinema 21 in Northwest District
Cinema 21 in Northwest District

Located amongst the bars and restaurants of NW 21st Avenue, Cinema 21 is the prototypical art house movie theater. With a single screen and no pizza or beer to distract the clientele from the viewing experience, Cinema 21 offers what owner Tom Ranieri describes as an old-fashioned neighborhood theater with a low-key atmosphere that is the antithesis to corporate-run multiplexes.

Cinema 21 features primarily first runs of alternative and independent movies, and the rising cost of ticket prices at the major theaters has helped the theater gain in attendance, as has its reputation for landing high-profile local premieres. After showing movies continuously for 85 years, undergoing three name changes since 1926, Cinema 21 has established itself as Portland’s leading destination for art house and indie movies.

Summer of 2011 will be no different for Cinema 21, hosting the much-anticipated A Tribe Called Quest documentary. Directed by Michael Rapaport, Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest opens July 29 and runs through August 4.

Ticket Prices: Shows starting after 6 p.m.: $9.00 general admission, $8.00 students (with ID), $6.00 seniors (62 and older) and children. Shows starting before 6 p.m.: $7.00 general admission, $6.00 seniors (62 and older) and children

Helpful Hint: Plan ahead and mark your calendars for movies you want to see. Cinema 21 tends to run movies that last for only a week and usually don’t get held over. Sometimes those movies won’t show anywhere else. Also be ready to stand in line. Cinema 21 opens its box office 30 minutes prior to show time and often runs films that have the ability to sell out a small theater.

Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Avenue, 503.223.4515