The Oldest Movie Theaters by State That Will Charm You
When it comes to movies, there’s no substitution for the big-screen theater experience. These days, multiplexes with fancy technology and plush seats dominate the urban and suburban landscape, taking comfort and convenience to another level.
But there was a time when going to the movies was something of a black-tie affair, and movie houses were designed with opulence in mind — so much so that the single-screen theaters of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s were called “palaces” and recalled ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and Mayans.
For families in search of cinematic nostalgia, we looked around the country for the oldest movie theater in every state. Our only criteria were that the theater was originally built for movies (or mostly movies) and that films are still shown there today. One is even certified as the oldest movie theater in the world. Can you guess where it's located?
Alabama: Walton Theater Selma
One of the older theaters still in operation, the Walton has been saved from destruction multiple times — once by controversial conservative entertainer Anita Bryant in the 1980s.
Today, the theater is kept alive by a nonprofit that revived it after decades sitting unused.
Alaska: Homer Theatre
In the mid-1970s, a couple from the San Francisco Bay Area came to Homer to build a cabin and ended up buying the town’s tiny and charming theater, which they remodeled to look more like an Old West general store than a movie house.
Believe it or not, the Suttons still operate the theater today.
Arizona: El Rio Theatre
Horse-drawn carriages no longer deliver patrons to this theater, but its adobe structure with a single screen has survived for more than 100 years.
It was originally called the Apache Theatre, but was renamed in the 1930s.
Arkansas: Scott Theater
The Scott is a great example of when a movie theater anchors a small American town’s Main Street.
Originally called the Pines Theater for its first 10 years, the Scott was most recently revived in 2016 with a digital projector.
California: Minor Theater
This theater claims to be the oldest in the U.S. designed specifically for feature films.
Like many old theaters, it hosted Vaudeville shows in its early days and claims to still have a trap door used by Harry Houdini in one of his stunts.
Colorado: Historic Park Theatre
Location: Estes Park
As you will soon find out, many of these theaters make some kind of claim to be the oldest theater of some sort.
The Historic Park is no exception, insisting on its website that it’s the “oldest single-house motion picture theater in the United States that was originally built as a movie theater and is still operating today.”
Connecticut: Bantam Cinema
This theater originally showed only silent films in its beautiful red-barn structure, which still stands today.
The current owners have continued a tradition called “Meet the Film-Maker” that’s featured notable Hollywood stars, including Joan Rivers and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Delaware: Clayton Theatre
The Clayton was built during the post-World War II boomtime for movie houses, and it was the first and remains the only theater in Dagsboro.
It nearly closed in 2014 due to the cost of a digital transformation, but a community fundraising effort saved the theater.
Florida: Priest Theatre
Location: High Springs
When W.A. Priest opened his new theater, it was to be called Dreamland. However, the town council thought the name was too risque, so Priest named the place after himself.
Today, the theater is known as a community gathering place where everyone knows each other.
Georgia: Zebulon Theater
The Zebulon, named after the original owner’s husband, is a single-screen theater built in the 18th century neoclassical Adam style.
It’s been owned and operated by a nonprofit since 2000.
Hawaii: Historic Waimea Theater
When the Waimea opened, it was the first movie theater in Hawaii to have electric lights on its marquee.
They were destroyed by a hurricane in 1992, but the building survived and today is owned by the County of Kauai and operated by a nonprofit.
Idaho: Panida Theater
The Spanish Colonial-style Panida — a contraction of Panhandle of Idaho — showed movies and Vaudeville shows when it first opened.
The theater was in total disrepair when the Sandpoint community rallied to save it in the mid-1980s.
Illinois: The Logan Theatre
Called the Paramount when it opened, this theater’s original architectural features were restored in the 1990s.
It’s known for its family-friendly atmosphere and for being a filming location for “Stranger Than Fiction,” starring Will Ferrell.
Indiana: Artcraft Theatre
Silent films and Vaudeville shows were all the rage when the Artcraft first opened. It was originally built with a full orchestra pit and dressing rooms underneath the stage.
Art Deco features were added in the 1940s.
Iowa: State Theatre
In a small town in northeast Iowa resides what the Guinness Book of World Records has certified as the oldest movie theater in the world. Movies ranged in cost from 15 to 35 cents when it opened.
A fire in 2010 nearly consumed the building, but it remains a community treasure.
Kansas: Plaza Cinema
The Guinness Book of World Records also says the Plaza is the oldest movie theater still in operation, albeit the oldest “purpose-built cinema.”
Owner Peach Madl worked for years to get the proof necessary for the honor and now displays the official certificate in the lobby.
Kentucky: Kentucky Theatre
With its intricately ornamented walls and stained-glass panels, the Kentucky has been a Lexington fixture since its opening.
To compete with nearby theaters when it opened, the Kentucky boasted about its hand-painted murals, indirect lighting, marble floors and modern ventilation system.
Louisiana: Prytania Theatre
Location: New Orleans
The Prytania is the last remaining single-screen theater in New Orleans, which once had dozens of them.
The Brunet family, who owns it today, has been operating theaters in the city for more than 130 years.
Maine: Colonial Theatre
It’s impossible to miss the Colonial in downtown Belfast because of the life-size elephant, Hawthorne, that graces the theater’s roof. This theater touts quite a history, even opening on the same day the Titanic set sail.
And if you're in the market for a historic theater, this one is apparently for sale, according to its website.
Maryland: Old Greenbelt Theatre
The City of Greenbelt gave this single-screen theater a complete renovation in 2014-15, including a digital projector and 35mm projector for archival screenings.
The theater is currently run by a nonprofit.
Massachusetts: Somerville Theatre
The first show at the Somerville in 1914 was actually a live music and dance performance, as it was originally built to host Vaudeville shows, stage, opera and, of course, movies.
It received an Art Deco makeover in the 1930s.
Michigan: Redford Theatre
Avoiding the fate of so many Detroit-area movie palaces, the Redford has continuously operated since opening in the late 1920s.
It still has its original theater organ, and its current programming consists of classics, silents and musicals.
Minnesota: Heights Theater
Location: Columbia Heights
This Beaux Arts-style theater originally showed first-run films and hosted Vaudeville acts.
The City of Columbia Heights wanted to condemn the building in the 1980s due to years of neglect, but it was eventually rescued and renovated in the 1990s.
Mississippi: Saenger Theater
This was one of the seven Saenger Theaters built and operated by brothers Abe and Julian Saenger throughout the South.
This Saenger still houses the original Robert Morton Pipe Organ that was built specifically for the theater’s acoustics.
Missouri: Hi-Pointe Theatre
Location: Saint Louis
The Hi-Pointe has always been a movies-only theater, unlike many of the palaces built in the 1920s. It was originally operated by Warner Bros. when movie production companies also owned theaters.
The monopoly ended in the late 1940s thanks to a Supreme Court ruling.
Montana: Roman Theater
Location: Red Lodge
The tiny 200-seat Roman has always been a first-run movie house.
Today, it also hosts music events and fundraisers.
Nebraska: Dundee Theater
Upon opening in 1925, the Dundee was actually located in what was considered suburban Omaha. But as the city expanded and grew up around it, the theater remained a neighborhood cornerstone.
The Dundee is now operated by a nonprofit that reopened it in 2017 following major renovations.
Nevada: Fallon Theatre
First called the New Rex upon opening, this theater retains its original neon sign and has been called the Fallon since 1930.
It was once a single-screen theater, but a second was added in the late 1970s.
New Hampshire: Peterborough Community Theatre
Not much has changed at the Peterborough in the past 100-plus years, but the theater is such a community staple that residents rallied to fund its digital conversion in 2013 and kept it open.
It was also a popular music venue from the 1970s to ‘90s, hosting notable performers such as Odetta, Tom Rush and Doc Watson.
New Jersey: Dunellen Theatre
The Dunellen has always hosted motion pictures, but a major 1921 renovation turned it from a small theater into a 500-seat movie palace.
In its early days, the owners often ran afoul of local law when they showed films on Sundays, which was supposed to be devoted to religious or secular activities.
New Mexico: Luna Theater
The Luna sits on a sleepy corner of the sleepy town of Clayton, unmistakable thanks to the smiley, winking moon face decoration on its marquee.
The basement was originally a massive ballroom that eventually was turned into a roller rink. The City of Clayton now owns the theater.
New York: Ohmann Theatre
In addition to movies, the Ohmann once hosted amateur boxing matches. It was built by Burt Ohmann, and his descendants ran it for years until the 1980s.
And now it's back in the family again: One of Ohmann’s great-grandchildren purchased and restored it in 2005.
North Carolina: Sunset Theatre
The Sunset has long been the center of entertainment in Asheboro, and the city now owns the theater.
It still shows movies but is generally used as a special events space.
North Dakota: Scenic Theater
The Scenic bills itself as the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the U.S.
It has undergone renovations in its lifetime, but the interior maintains a decidedly retro look and feel — even the popcorn machine is from the 1940s.
Ohio: Strand Theatre
The Strand became a nonprofit cultural center operated by Ohio Wesleyan University in 2002, but it still shows first-run films.
Over the years, the single-screen theater expanded and now has three screens.
Oklahoma: Liberty Theatre
Admission remains remarkably affordable ($4 for a general ticket) at the Liberty even though they show first-run movies.
Many patrons, however, come for the food more than the films, as the house-made chili dog is said to be a must-have.
Oregon: Hollywood Theatre
The Hollywood opened as a 1,500-seat silent movie palace that also had an eight-piece orchestra and organist. By the late 1980s, the theater was in shambles, but a nonprofit came to the rescue in the late ’90s and began its renovation.
Today, it’s known for its dynamic film programming, educational opportunities and financial support that it provides to Portland filmmakers.
Pennsylvania: Emmaus Theatre
Originally a nickelodeon showing crank-operated movies for 5 cents, the Emmaus eventually grew into a full-fledged movie palace with an Art Deco facade.
Today, it’s as iconic as anything in the city that bears its name and a popular destination for a family outing.
Rhode Island: Avon Cinema
The Avon has always been an Art Deco movie palace and has always been owned by the Dulgarian family.
They originally converted a shuttered stage theater into the Avon in 1938, adding various touches over the years and performing a total renovation in the 1980s.
South Carolina: Sylvia Theater
This theater was rescued by a local musician in 2001, who also ran a successful crowd-funding campaign in 2014 to bring a digital projector to the Sylvia.
It first showed films from 1926 to 1933, then again from 1935 to 1968 and was vacant until the 2001 revival.
South Dakota: Lund Theatre
Originally called the Wild West Theater, it had no permanent home from 1911 to 1915.
Extensive remodeling in 1950 gave it the classic Art Deco look that lives on today.
Tennessee: Belcourt Theatre
When the Belcourt opened, it was Nashville’s largest stage, since it hosted live theater as well as movies. It also served as home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1934-36.
Since 2007, however, it has been run by a nonprofit and screens some 300 films a year.
Texas: Lyric Theater
The Lyric was originally an outdoor theater showing films in the winter on the side of the building. It shuttered for 50 years in 1967, but when it was revived in 2007, the new owners started out showing movies on a painted screen outside.
Nowadays, patrons can view films indoors again.
Utah: Tower Theatre
Location: Salt Lake City
When this theater opened in 1928, it had a $10,000 Kilgen Wonder Organ — which was one-quarter of the total cost for erecting the building that housed it.
Today, it’s operated by a nonprofit and focuses on independent cinema and the occasional classic film on weekends.
Vermont: Savoy Theater
The Savoy is one of the oldest movie theater buildings in the country, although it has opened and closed a handful of times in its long history.
The theater as it is today dates to an early 1980s renovation. It also now boasts a second screen.
Virginia: Byrd Theatre
The opulently decorated Byrd was notable upon its opening for being a film-only theater, and it still uses the same Wurlitzer Organ from its debut.
The Byrd was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980.
Washington: Ruby Theatre
Little has changed since 1914 at the Ruby, which still boasts its original horseshoe-shaped balcony, tin ceiling and cast-plaster proscenium arch, a common feature of old Western theaters.
Today, it shows first-run movies on a digital projector.
West Virginia: Robey Theatre
Like North Dakota’s Scenic Theater, the Robey opened in 1911 and has been showing films continuously ever since. Both theaters claim the title of oldest to continuously operate.
Regardless, they both remain local gems for their communities. The Robey’s original sign was restored in 2007.
Wisconsin: Downer Theatre
The Downer is notable for having an Art Deco marquee from the day it opened (this style wouldn’t become popular in movie houses for another decade or so).
A major restoration in 1990 added a second screen but retained the original features and charm of the building.
Wyoming: Rialto Theater
The Rialto was originally designed to look like an Old West Vaudeville theater.
Over the years, it was built out to include a large neon sign to replace the metal original, along with a marquee that replaced the wooden beam containing the names of stores that share the building with the theater.