Why Philly Needs an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

The Austin-based company’s CEO tells us he loves our city. Enough to come and solve our movie screen problem?

It’s no secret that, for all its cinematic traditions, from The Philadelphia Story to Rocky to Bradley Cooper jogging while wearing a garbage bag, Philadelphia isn’t exactly the world’s greatest moviegoing city.

I’ve been a film critic in this city for eight years now, and a hardcore cinephile for even longer than that, and I know I’d love it if there were more and easier options to see movies here in town.

But you don’t have to be critic to see there’s a problem here. There are way fewer screens in Center City—only 14— than in just about any major U.S. city of its size. There’s not a single movie theater that’s in any way centrally located in the city, and with the Roxy still not open and the Boyd no closer to restoration, it doesn’t look like there will be one anytime soon. Philly very much lacks a signature movie house.

But I have an idea for solving this problem: The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema needs to come to Philadelphia.

Founded in 1997 in Austin, Tex., where it remains headquartered, the Alamo Drafthouse has been called “the Coolest Movie Theater in the World” by Wired magazine. It offers the best of both worlds: A film snob’s appreciation for the cinematic form—including frequent special programming—and in-theater food and drink service. I’ve got a feeling that the concept is a perfect fit for a city that loves it movies, its food and its drink.

The Alamo Drafthouse, which has numerous locations throughout Texas, has begun expanding to other cities and states in recent years, and its first New York City location is under construction, with a Brooklyn edition to follow in two years. I’d love to see them aim about 100 miles south for their next effort—especially if it offers, as the chain’s Yonkers location recently did, a “Monty Python and the Holy Grail Quote-Along.”

And it turns out there’s some hope.

“We do really love Philadelphia,” Alamo Drafthouse’s founder and CEO, Tim League, said in an email when I reached out to him about the possibility of the Drafthouse coming to our town. “I have a lot of family in the area and it is one of my favorite cities.  We currently have no plans for expansion in Philadelphia, but things can always change!”

Alamo has been to Philly before, in fact—it brought its “Rolling Roadshow,” in which popular films are screened on location, to Philly in 2010 for a “Rocky” celebration at the Art Museum.

Another reason to welcome Alamo Drafthouse to Philly: The company’s famed zero-tolerance policy towards texting and other phone usage during movie showings. The Drafthouse, dating back to its inception, has had a strict “no talking” policy which, with the evolution of technology, has expanded to include texting. This led to an angry voicemail from a moviegoer that went viral in 2011.

There’s recently been a debate, kicked off by an online article by blogging software pioneer Anil Dash, about whether the future of moviegoing is meant to include open talking and texting. Without rebutting that piece point-by-point, I can state that it would be great for film culture in Philadelphia if those who prefer a phone-free movie experience had a place where such a thing was guaranteed by more than just that “turn off your cell phone” message.

So come on, real estate and government types: Let’s make the Philadelphia Alamo Drafthouse happen!


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  • Erin Rae Osenbaugh

    Please, please, PLEASE! I just moved here from Austin and am DYING for the Drafthouse!!!

  • Hila Ratzabi

    I moved here from NYC two years ago. I love this city, mostly, EXCEPT FOR THE MOVIES!!! Totally agree with this piece. There are few good theatres, but so few that are centrally located, and so few that show really good films. Oh and also the schools.

  • NateFried

    You said it brother. We NEED a movie theatre downtown. There are the Ritz in Olde City which is fine, but we need a blockbuster movie theatre downtown like Boston and NYC. I keep suggesting Blatstein to open one in Northern Liberties where I live… but it would be soooooo nice if I could go see a movie by taking a quick subway trip… and not be in a neighborhood that is “on the verge” like Temple’s theatre or UPENN’s theatre. The joy of going to see a movie downtown, then walking over to a cafe to talk about it or a bar for more night time fun is amazing.

  • Natalie S.

    Why are you only counting center city theaters and then comparing our numbers to ENTIRE other cities. I have access to almost 40 screens from my apartment.

    I’ll take not tearing down HISTORIC buildings in center city/old city for a stupid movie theater. With a 10-15 bus ride I can reach a 17-screen theater in South Philly, a 6-screen one in West Philly or in 20 or so I can reach another 6 screen in Manayunk.

    Also, no idea who the other people posting are, but University city is not “on the verge.” The theater (not run by Penn) is very nice and in a much safer hood than Northern Liberties but they could use a theater since yuppies/hipsters do hate leaving their hood. Maybe tear down some abandoned buildings above Girard in Fishtown. Do understand the North Broad theater concerns though. That theater is awful.

    Maybe instead of a movie people could go see some live theater or musical performance, we have tons of those locations and they are bringing much better stuff for us to see than the crap Hollywood is putting out.

  • donkeypant

    I loathe going to the movies nowadays. Too many dipsh!ts who talk out loud, who come to the movies while sick and hack and cough throughout the film, and who drop their ADD-afflicted children off at the theater to raise hell.

    Although I enjoy going to the Ritz (where the clientele respects film and their fellow audience members), I’m not that into many of the films they feature there.

    I usually just rent these days. But hopefully these guys come to town. Or, maybe Hollywood will release more films directly to OnDemand.