The Moviegoer’s Guide to Austin: The Best Movie Theaters in Austin, Texas

The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location in Austin, Texas. Photo by Heather Kennedy, Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

From the Alamo Drafthouse to the Violet Crown, a Cinephile’s Complete Guide to One of the World’s Most Vibrant Exhibition Venues

At once a college town and state capital, Austin, Texas, is known for a diverse and eclectic community that inspired the city’s “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. Despite the rising rents and large-scale redevelopment projects that have changed the city’s character in recent years, Austin remains a vibrant arts and culture destination. From hosting film festivals like Fantastic Fest and South by Southwest to being the birthplace of celebrated dine-in cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse, Austin offers cinephiles a range of great moviegoing experiences.

Lars Nilsen, the lead film programmer for the Austin Film Society, credits campus film societies that emerged at the University of Texas in the 1960s and ‘70s as the creators of the city’s contemporary film scene. “Groups like CinemaTexas and Cinema 40 were pioneering organizations. You had people like Jean-Luc Godard and Andy Warhol coming to Austin to show their films. That’s part of what attracted Richard Linklater to come here and start the Austin Film Society.”

The influence of Richard Linklater on Austin’s film community cannot be overstated. The Austin Film Society (AFS) was founded by the filmmaker in 1985, well before he became an established figure in American independent cinema. It served as a second home to countless cinephiles over the years, including University of Texas alum Wes Anderson. AFS was founded the same year Vulcan Video, an independently owned video rental store, first opened its doors and began acting as a hub for the city’s movie lovers.

By the mid-’90s, Austin seemed like the ideal place for Tim and Karrie League to move to and open their dream movie theater, the Alamo Drafthouse. Their first site in the city opened in 1997, in a less-than-ideal space in a bourgeoning entertainment district on Colorado Street. The Leagues were undeterred, having faith that the city would nurture their theater. “Austin is a place where a lot of people go out for entertainment: eating, dining, movies, music, comedy—it’s a lively, vivacious town,” says Tim League. “Having the University of Texas as an anchor is huge. They have a really strong radio, television, and film program at the university. Richard Linklater being here, co-founding the Austin Film Society, was also hugely influential. You had other filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez, Terrence Malick, and Mike Judge. You would see those guys at screenings—they’re all movie lovers—and it’s exciting to be part of a movie-loving community like that. They fostered this community of cinephiles. Everything just blossomed from there. I think Alamo has certainly done its part over the years to grow and build these local audiences. One of the things we’ve always measured at Alamo is finding those customers who only go to one movie a year, who clearly aren’t habitual moviegoers, and turn that one visit to three or four per year. That’s how you build an audience in a movie-loving town.”

Today, Austin counts on 200 screens to serve a quickly growing population of more than a million people. In our inaugural Moviegoer’s Guide series, Boxoffice Pro takes a look at the city’s exhibition scene—from art houses to multiplexes, dine-ins, drive-ins, and everything in between. This guide aims to be current as of its publication date, and due to space constraints, we’ve omitted pop-up and seasonal screening venues, cultural or performance spaces that don’t primarily function as cinemas, and movie theaters in nearby cities and towns—with apologies to nearby Round Rock, Texas, which has excellent moviegoing choices of its own.

Austin, Texas by Screenshare

A Dine-In Destination

Austin is the birthplace of Alamo Drafthouse and is only a three-hour drive from Dallas, where fellow cinema eateries Studio Movie Grill and Movie Tavern were founded. It is also one of the biggest dine-in cinema markets in the world, with 46 percent of its screens offering a meal-and-a-movie experience. To put that number in context, research from Omdia reveals that the dine-in sector only represents around 8 percent of screens in the United States.

Alamo Drafthouse claims the largest concentration of dine-in screens in the city, with a total of 37 across its five locations. The Village site is the Austin circuit’s longest-running location, originally opening in 2001 as the chain’s second-ever theater. It still counts on its 35 mm projectors and has since incorporated 4K projection with digital 3D technology, allowing it to screen repertory film prints alongside Hollywood’s latest releases. The rest of the circuit’s Austin theaters are designed with movie-themed lobbies and lounge bars that provide an ideal setting for after-movie drinks and discussion. The Highball, in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, features a full bar with karaoke rooms, a seated dining area, and a performance space. Alamo Drafthouse Mueller’s lounge bar, Barrel O’Fun, features circus-themed bar games for both kids and adults—a draw for families visiting the nearby children’s museum and public park. Alamo’s lobby installations are always part of the experience. A giant replica of Audrey II, the man-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors, snakes around the Slaughter Lane location’s box office to greet moviegoers. Known for its fan-driven moviegoing experience, wide selection of craft beers, and an unpretentious menu featuring indulgent classics like Chips & Queso and Buffalo Cauliflower, Alamo Drafthouse provides a unique and quintessential moviegoing experience in Austin.

Mexican multinational chain Cinépolis entered the U.S. market in 2014 by identifying two underrepresented segments in American theaters: luxury and dine-in theaters. Its acquisition of Texas-based dine-in chain Moviehouse & Eatery in 2019 thrust the circuit into one of the world’s most competitive dine-in markets. Austin hosts two Moviehouse & Eatery locations, both of which are currently undergoing a full reseating conversion to install plush recliners in every auditorium. Their menus have stalwarts like burgers, pizza, and sandwiches—but it’s the tacos that stand out. If you’ve ever had a craving for lobster tacos at the movies, you’ll find them at both of Austin’s Moviehouse & Eatery locations.

Moviegoers looking to enjoy their dine-in experience in a premium large-format (PLF) auditorium have their pick from the Dolby Cinema at AMC Dine-In Tech Ridge 10 and EVO Cinemas Belterra’s private-label EVX auditorium. AMC’s dedicated dine-in cinema in Austin also incorporates regular and heated recliners across its 10 auditoriums. It doesn’t have a full waitstaff, but customers can order their meal at the concession stand or through AMC’s mobile app for in-seat delivery. EVO’s PLF concept, EVX, includes a giant wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screen paired with Dolby Atmos immersive sound.

On the upscale end of the dine-in spectrum, iPic Austin offers a luxury moviegoing experience in North Austin. The circuit’s trademark Premium Plus recliners, custom-designed private seating pods for two guests with a shared table, provide the perfect level of privacy in a communal setting for a more intimate moviegoing experience. A dedicated waitstaff executes an elevated menu with an extensive wine list. Hand-held and casual dining options are available, but no other theater in Austin will give you the opportunity of ordering a plate of spicy tuna on crispy rice with a bottle of champagne to go with it.

Situated in the heart of Austin’s lively Second Street district, the Violet Crown is the city’s only downtown cinema currently in operation. The independently owned theater opened in 2011 and quickly became one of the city’s premier moviegoing destinations. The Violet Crown has additional sites in Dallas, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Charlottesville, Virginia. David Gil, marketing director of the Violet Crown, says these cities are similar in “sharing a vibrant arts community with an appetite beyond commercial films, but along the cinematic spectrum including art house, independent, documentary and foreign films.” The Violet Crown engages with its audience through its email newsletter and social media channels, operating as a community-run theater that has hosted its share of charity fundraisers and pet adoption events. Laser projection and 7.1 surround sounds keep presentations at the Violet Crown to the highest standards. A hidden perk of attending a screening? Four-hour validated parking in downtown Austin.

AUSTIN’S DINE-IN CINEMAS

The Alamo Drafthouse Village location in Austin, Texas. Photo by Heather Kennedy, Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse Village. Opened 2001.
2700 West Anderson Lane
Screens: 4
Tech & Amenities:

  • 35 mm film
  • 4K digital projection
  • Digital 3D
  • Recliners available in every front row
  • Open-air patio with seating

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with dedicated waitstaff delivering food and drink to your seat
  • Lobby bar
The Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane location in Austin, Texas. Photo by Heather Kennedy, Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Slaughter Lane. Opened 2012
5701 W. Slaughter Lane
Screens: 8
Tech & Amenities:

  • 4K digital projection
  • Digital 3D
  • Luxury recliners in every auditorium

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with dedicated waitstaff delivering food and drink to your seat
  • 400 Rabbits, an attached bar and lounge specializing in tequila and mezcal cocktails. The bar also features outdoor patio seating, a seated dining area, and a full bar with craft beers and curated cocktails.
The Alamo Drafthouse Mueller location in Austin, Texas. Photo by Heather Kennedy, Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Mueller. Opened 2017
1911 Aldrich Street
Screens: 6
Tech & Amenities:

  • 4K digital projection
  • RealD 3D
  • Luxury recliners in every auditorium
  • Gender-neutral restrooms

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with dedicated waitstaff delivering food and drink to your seat
  • Barrel O’Fun, an attached bar and lounge with a family-friendly event and performance space. The boardwalk-themed lounge includes themed games available to patrons of all ages until 8 p.m.—and accessible to adults in the evenings. Barrel O’Fun features a full bar with craft beer and curated cocktails, as well as a food menu featuring old-fashioned soda fountain snacks.
The Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline location in Austin, Texas. Photo by Heather Kennedy, Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Lakeline. Opened 2013.
14028 N. U.S. Highway 183
Screens: 10
Tech & Amenities:

  • 35 mm projection
  • 4K digital projection with High Frame Rate (HFR)
  • RealD 3D
  • Open-air patio with seating, TVs, and games

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with dedicated waitstaff delivering food and drink to your seat
  • Glass Half Full Taproom, an attached bar and lounge for beer lovers, featuring a wide array of craft beers and curated cocktails
The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location in Austin, Texas. Photo by Heather Kennedy, Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema South Lamar. Opened 2005.
1120 S. Lamar Blvd.
Screens: 9
Tech & Amenities:

  • 35 mm projection
  • 4K digital projection
  • RealD 3D
  • Open-air patio with seating

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with dedicated waitstaff delivering food and drink to your seat
  • The Highball, an attached bar and lounge featuring themed karaoke rooms, a seated dining area, a performance and event space, and an array of craft beer and curated cocktails

AMC Dine-In Tech Ridge 10. Opened 2019
12625 N. Interstate Highway
Screens: 10
Tech & Amenities:

  • Heated AMC Signature Recliners
  • AMC Signature Recliners
  • Reserved seating
  • Dolby Cinema

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with orders placed at the concessions stand or mobile app and delivery to your seat
  • MacGuffins bar
  • Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain drinks
EVO Cinemas in Austin, Texas. Courtesy of EVO Cinemas.

EVO Cinemas Belterra Village. Opened 2020.
166 Hargraves Drive
Screens: 14
Tech & Amenities:

  • Recliner seating
  • EVX, EVO’s private-label PLF, with a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling giant screen and Dolby Atmos immersive sound

Food & Beverage:

  • Kiosk ordering for in-theater dining
  • Full bar with beer, wine, and cocktails specializing in craft Margaritas

iPic Austin. Opened 2010.
3225 Amy Donovan Plaza
Screens: 8
Tech & Amenities:

  • Premium Plus recliner seats, custom-designed private seating pods for two guests with a shared table for a more private moviegoing experience
  • Complimentary blankets at each seat

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with dedicated waitstaff delivering food and drink to your seat
  • Full bar with handcrafted cocktails and beer options
  • Extensive wine list, featuring a selection of red, white, and sparkling wine by the glass or bottle
Moviehouse and Eatery NW Austin. Courtesy of Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas.

Moviehouse and Eatery NW Austin. Opened 2012.
8300 North FM 620, Building B.
Screens: 11
Tech & Amenities:

  • Newly installed plush recliner seating

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with dedicated waitstaff delivering food and drink to your seat
  • Full-service lobby bar
Moviehouse and Eatery SW Austin. Courtesy of Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas

Moviehouse and Eatery SW Austin. Opened 2018.
7415 S.W. Parkway
Screens: 9
Tech & Amenities:

  • Newly installed plush recliner seating

Food & Beverage:

  • Full menu with dedicated waitstaff delivering food and drink to your seat
  • Full-service lobby bar
Violet Crown Austin. Courtesy of Violet Crown

Violet Crown Austin. Opened 2011.
434 W. Second Street
Screens: 4
Tech & Amenities:

  • Laser projection
  • 7.1 surround sound
  • Seating with tray tables for in-theater dining
  • Each auditorium’s front row is equipped with ottomans for a more relaxed experience.

Food & Beverage:

  • Full made-to-order-menu at the concessions stand, available to be taken in and enjoyed in any auditorium
  • Full bar with 17 rotating taps of beer, movie-themed cocktails, and select wines by the glass

The Multiplex Experience

Regal is Austin’s largest exhibitor by screen count, operating 49 auditoriums across four multiplexes and representing nearly a quarter of the city’s total screens. All their locations have the hallmarks of a modern multiplex—from staples at the concession stand to stadium seating in its large auditoriums. For PLF enthusiasts, the Regal Gateway locations boast an Imax screen and a 4DX immersive-seating auditorium. Galaxy Theatres Highland is the only other Austin cinema to offer a motion-seating, featuring D-Box seats for select titles. Additional PLF auditoriums can be found at the AMC Barton Creek Square 14, which offers both an Imax and Dolby Cinema auditorium.

AUSTIN’S MULTIPLEXES

AMC Barton Creek Square 14. Opened 1994.
2901 Capital of Texas Hwy.
Screens: 14
Tech & Amenities:

  • AMC Signature Recliner seating
  • Imax
  • Dolby Cinema

Food & Beverage:

  • MacGuffins Bar

Cinemark Austin Southpark Meadows
9900 S. IH-35 Service Road.
Screens: 14
Tech & Amenities:

  • RealD 3D
  • Luxury Lounger Recliner seating
Galaxy Highland in Austin, Texas. Photo by Gaby Loria.

Galaxy Highland. Opened 2001.
6700 Middle Fiskville Road.
Screens: 10
Tech & Amenities:

  • D-Box

Regal Arbor at Great Hills. Opened 2003.
9828 Great Hills Trail
Screens: 8

Regal Gateway. Opened 1997.

9700 Stonelake Blvd.
Screens: 16
Tech & Amenities:

  • Digital 3D
  • 4DX
  • Imax
  • Stadium seating

Regal Metropolitan. Opened 1999.
901 Little Texas Lane.
Screens: 14
Tech & Amenities:

  • Stadium seating.

Regal Westgate. Opened 1986.
4577 S. Lamar Boulevard.
Screens: 11
Tech & Amenities:

  • Recliner seating
  • Stadium seating

Southwest Theaters Lake Creek 7
13729 Research Blvd #1500.
Screens: 7
Tech & Amenities:

  • Luxury recliners

Food & Beverage:

  • Beer & Wine

Art Houses, Historic Theaters, and Museum Cinemas

Since its founding in 1985, the Austin Film Society (AFS) has hosted screenings multiple times per month at various Austin venues, from the now defunct Dobie Theatre to local classrooms. AFS found a permanent home for its screenings in 2017, taking over the lease of a former theater and rebranding the space as its own. “We knew we didn’t want to be an art house only showing first-run films from specialty distributors—Austin already has that—but we didn’t want to be a cinematheque that just did repertory screenings either,” says AFS’s Lars Nilsen, who joined the organization after a 14-year tenure at Alamo Drafthouse. Nilsen mentions New York’s Film Forum as an inspiration for AFS Cinema, “an eclectic mix of first-run art house and repertory series.” Inside the spacious lobby, the AFS Cinema has an extensive gallery of film posters and art on display, some of it coming from Richard Linklater’s personal collection. “It’s not exactly a museum, but it’s one of the best exhibition spaces for film posters that you’ll find anywhere in the world,” says Nilsen.

A pair of historic single-screen downtown theaters add classical Hollywood glamor to Austin’s cinema scene. The Paramount Theatre (dating back to 1915) and the State Theatre (1935) are both managed by the Austin Theatre Alliance and regularly host repertory programming and film series throughout the year. Moviegoers looking for the best Imax experience in Austin can head over to the Bullock Texas State History Museum, which hosts a first-run, state-of-the-art Imax auditorium playing the latest studio releases.

Austin’s Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In offers the most unique outdoor moviegoing experiences in Austin. Its original location in Austin’s residential Mueller neighborhood plays both first-run and repertory titles on five screens, with an additional three mini-screens that can accommodate a single car available for private rental. Owner Josh Frank, who launched the concept in 2013, calls it the next evolution of the micro-theater concept: adding an experiential element to the drive-in experience. Frank credits Austin’s cinema scene as an inspiration for his approach to experiential screenings. “It was very inspiring to see the Alamo Drafthouse gain prominence, he says. “Here’s a married couple that said, ‘We’re going to open a movie theater,’ and they did it better than anyone else.”

The idea first came to Frank by accident. In 2009, he rigged a short-throw projector to show movies on the side of a trailer to draw attention to a food truck selling desserts next to a popular taco shop. “People would get their tacos and come watch the movie, without necessarily buying any desserts,” he says, laughing. “It made me realize I had stumbled into a different business altogether.”

“Austin is the sort of place where everyone is trying to come up with their own original idea, I love that about this town,” he says. “We already have the best cinema experience with the Alamo Drafthouse, so what could I do that could be considered different? The last thing I wanted to do was to compete with their model. At the same time, you have multiplexes, the Austin Film Society, and an upscale downtown art house like the Violet Crown. I wanted to build out my own niche, and the world of outdoor experiential is still very much in its infancy.”

Frank identified some of the issues affecting drive-ins in urban areas: they were far from the city center and, more importantly, required the tenant to go all-in on a large, empty lot of land. To work in a city setting, an outdoor cinema would have to adopt the model of a micro-cinema: large enough to draw an audience but small enough to be able to pick up and change sites in case a real estate developer came knocking. “I originally thought it was going to be a pop-up experience, but people took it seriously and kept coming back,” he says. “Here we are 13 years later, and we’re continuing to build outdoor movie experiences in Austin.”

The Blue Starlite has two outdoor experiential screens in Mueller. A tiki beach–themed space with lawn chairs and blankets is a consistent draw whenever they put Jaws on the screen. Their forest screen has a larger screen and can accommodate more people in a setting surrounded by trees. In summer, Frank uses a fog machine to create the perfect backdrop for repertory horror screenings of films like Friday the 13th. Earlier this year, independent distributor Neon reached out to the Blue Starlite to host special experiential screenings of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria on its forest screen.

“The key is to create an outdoor space that goes beyond an inflatable screen in a field,” says Frank. “We start by looking for a space that would be great for a movie, and work to create a venue that gives it a sense of permanence. That’s what makes indoor theaters work—they’re in a fixed space that people can come back to. The idea is to recreate that outside, find an enclosed outdoor space where the rest of the world can disappear behind the big screen.”

The Blue Starlite opened its second Austin location in 2020 on a rooftop in Austin’s downtown. It programs its two screens with first-run studio titles and partners with area restaurants to offer on-site food delivery. This summer, the Blue Starlite is partnering with Capital Cruises to bring a screening series to the Austin waterfront. Moviegoers can buy a ticket to see a film on a floating platform in front of the city’s skyline. Those with their own kayaks, paddleboards, or canoes can simply boat in to catch the show.

AUSTIN’S ART HOUSES AND INDEPENDENT THEATERS

RED ROCKET screening with director Sean Baker and co-stars Bree Elrod and Brittney Rodriguez in attendance at AFS Cinema in Austin, Texas. / Photo by www.hlkfotos.com

AFS Cinema. Opened 2017.

6406 North Interstate 35, Suite 3100
Screens: 2
Tech & Amenities:

  • Vintage film poster and soundtrack gallery.
  • 35mm and digital projection.

Food & Beverage:

  • Full bar with a rotating selection of draft beer, local and international wines, and craft cocktails.

Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in: Mueller. Opened 2013.
2015 E M. Franklin Avenue
Screens: 5
Tech & Amenities

  • 3 mini drive-in screens available for private rental
  • 2 experiential outdoor screens, a tiki beach screen, and a forest-themed screen

Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In: Rooftop Downtown Austin. Opened 2020.
300 San Antonio Street.
Screens: 2
Food & Beverage:

  • Food delivery available from participating local restaurants

Bullock Museum Imax. Opened 2001.
1800 Congress Avenue
Screens: 1
Tech & Amenities:

  • Imax
  • Imax 3D
  • 35 mm

Paramount Theatre. Opened 1915.
713 Congress Avenue. Opened 1915.
Screens: 1
Tech & Amenities:

  • 35 mm and digital projection

Stateside Theatre. Opened 1935.
719 Congress Avenue
Screens: 1
Tech & Amenities:

  • 35 mm and digital projection

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