Here’s the boring version of this blog: just break out your map app, type in “movie theaters,” and go to the nearest megaplex.
But wait, you live in Asheville—Western North Carolina’s home of the arts! The city streets are alive with inspiration, there are unknown treasures around every corner and you never know what new expression of the human drive to create will find you next!
Why, then, would you go to a cookie cutter theater that has the same rigid carpet, same fake butter, same bagged nacho cheese that you’ve encountered at every other theater in your life? How about you find something with a little flair?
Here’s some of the best places to catch a flick that offer a refreshing new way to kick back and enjoy a flick.
This is a nerd’s paradise, an homage to all that makes movies great. Asheville Brewing’s North Asheville location lets you know what’s up from the parking lot, with a cityscape mural accented by UFOs and monsters adorning the outside walls. Inside, the décor is wall to wall pop culture. No distinguishing between high art here: 80s kitsch classics are paired alongside arthouse favorites as a celebration of all things Hollywood.
The theater is cheap, too. Tickets are always $3, but you’ll want to buy them in advance if a popular movie is showing. There’s one screen, and it tends to alternate between second-run releases and cult classics, including events like Harry Potter Fest and Miyazaki Month. If you missed the most recent superhero bonanza a couple months back, don’t fret. Just wait for it to show up at Asheville Pizza and enjoy the show.
Of course, the food and drink menu is outstanding. The same menu they serve up front carries over into the theater, so you can get their full line of draft beers, signature pizzas, and pub food staples like wings. It sure beats the heck out of Milk Duds.
Now here’s a funky one.
The Grail is an Asheville favorite for its warm, inviting staff, great concessions (including local brews), and… interesting seating arrangements. There’s some of the familiar movie theater seating for the bigger rooms, sure, but the main attraction here is the eclectic blend of couches, loveseats, wingback chairs, and various other cozy furniture arranged into rows in front of the screen. It’s absurd in the most deep-soul satisfying way, and an experience unlike anything else you’ll experience in a theater.
This place is known for its independent and art house credentials. It’s the place to go to find the latest and greatest unknown director or actor everyone will be talking about five years from now. The Grail also packages films into what amounts to a mini festival, with a themed program that focuses on a unique topic or region of the world.
That isn’t to say you’ll be lost if you’re craving a popcorn flick, though. They don’t play favorites at the Grail, screening first-run mainstream movies like the latest Pixar box office smash. The draw is that you’ll be seeing it in a quirky, fun, and intimate place dedicated to the joy of cinema, and you’ll walk away with a new place to tell your out of town friends they have to see to believe.
This downtown staple is a stalwart of a bygone era where the theater held down a central location, right in the heart of a town’s main drag. Built in 1947, the Fine Arts Theatre proudly displays its history with neon lettering, a vintage marquee with hand-hung lettering, and understated Art Deco design and detailing forecasting a transition to Art Moderne*. The theatre has had an interesting history: it opened in 1947 as The Strand, a first-run, mainstream theater. It changed with the times, becoming a grindhouse theater in the 60s and a full on XXX theater in the 70s, which was a normal evolution for old theaters at the time. The theater was shuttered in 1986 thanks to home video. The current incarnation opened its doors in 1996.
As the name implies, this theater is dedicated to independent cinema. You won’t find a studio blockbuster name on that old marquee anytime soon. What you will find is the hottest contenders for awards—before they’re anywhere else.
We’d be remiss to not mention the Fine Arts Theatre’s prime location. It’s right in the center of downtown Asheville, in walking distance of a lot of our favorite restaurants and local haunts. This is the ideal date night setup: start with a nice dinner, watch a movie that will make you think, talk about it over a glass of wine or a cold beer. You can even claim it was all your idea!
You scrolled this far down because you want the real insider stuff, right? Well, the Asheville Film Society is where it’s at. They host free movies at Eurisko Beer Company two nights a week, starting at sundown.
The curation is impeccable: every Tuesday is a rep selection, while Thursday is a classic horror movie. Tuesday selections vary wildly and don’t stick to the stodgy list of AFI-approved classics you’d expect. Yeah, they have the occasional black-and-white throwback your grandparents told you to watch–but those are actually good! They also screen crowd-pleasing comedies, documentaries, foreign films, and the AFS has great taste in horror movies.
It’s always worth taking a chance here, especially considering the free entry and readily available beer at special prices. They’re also the only game in town that not only allows, but encourages you to bring your own snacks. Who could ask for more?
Enjoy the Show
Living in Asheville is a constant cycle of opportunities to break out of your routine and try something new. The film scene here is no exception. Whether you want to relive your favorite movie with a roaring crowd of fans, cozy up in a homey screening room, stay on the forefront of art cinema, or watch a slasher flick at a brewery, there’s an option out there. It’s just one more way in which the arts are woven into the fabric of this town we love to call home.
*Special thanks to Jack Thomson of the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County for lending his architectural expertise to this post.
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