Philadelphia’s Movie Scene Sucks Because Center City Doesn’t Have a Mainstream Theater

Can the Philadelphia Film Society change that with their ambitious new plans for the Roxy?

Earlier this week, my colleague Victor Fiorillo broke the news that the Philadelphia Film Society—the tireless folks who put on our days-long film festival every year—had taken over the recently shuttered Roxy Theatre. He was pretty pumped, writing, “If anyone call tell me how all of this isn’t awesome news for Center City, I’m listening.”

Me? I was still bumming over the loss of the Roxy.

Sure, it was a little grungy, but I thought the sticky floor gave it a blue-collar charm lacking at the Ritz theaters. And it was, by far, the easiest place to see a mainstream movie in Philadelphia. The lines weren’t long; the service was decent; and best of all, it was located right in in Center City.

Upon hearing the news of the Film Society’s acquisition, I found myself thinking, Really? Another arthouse theater? It seemed to me that our city’s already got ample space to see indie flicks and a limited selection of places to see popular movies like the latest Batman film or the second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy.

I called up Parinda Patel, managing director of the Film Society, to ask her to convince me that the Film Society’s new initiative was a good one.

Patel tried hard to sway me. She explained that the Roxy had an ironclad agreement to show only Warner Brothers films—so while it was more mainstream than, say, Ritz at the Bourse, it wasn’t quite a comprehensive as a big megaplex. She also laid out the pros of creating a hub for Philly’s film community, noting that it’s much more disjointed than, say, the theater community who joined together under the (recently dissolved) Philadelphia Theatre Alliance or the Old City art galleries who collaborate on First Fridays.

I’m down with that. I believe having arts communities organize and work together makes our city stronger. But I also wonder what that does for the average Philadelphian who just wants to see a movie without trekking across the city.

Patel’s had an answer for that. She’s not ruling out the possibility of some mainstream screenings at the new space. “We love the big movies—sometimes even more than the smaller ones. Eventually, we want to show first-run films,” she noted. “We have great relationships with studios like Lions Gate and Paramount, so it’s not impossible, but that’s something we’ll have to build ourselves up to. The opportunity is there.”

This is news I can get excited about!

Though, I’m still left muttering about our much-talked-about movie-going dilemma in Center City in post-Roxy Philadelphia.

It is outrageous that we are subjected to subpar theaters like the Riverview—where I once saw grown men fist-fight in the middle of a screening. The Pearl and Rave are decent theaters—my experiences at both have been inoffensive—but they’re tucked away in neighborhoods instead of being located in the most bustling part of the city. For all the amazing work done by the Center City District and Paul Levy, who was once called “the king of Center City” by Citypaper, we are still lacking the opportunity to watch a film near the shops and restaurants that make people come from all over the world to hang out in Philly.

It’s not unreasonable to want a movie theater within walking distance of City Hall. A perfect location would’ve been the now-shuttered Borders (which will instead become a fancypants Walgreens). Or perhaps the Boyd at 19th and Chestnut could finally, finally be refurbished. Maybe we could blow up the Gallery and put a megaplex there.

Can the Film Society’s new project take us a step closer to the dream of being able to see mainstream movies in the heart of the city? I’m not so sure. But they’re taking the first step.