OPINION: Part one: The best movie theaters in Tucson

desert-cinema
Farrah Rodriguez | The Daily Wildcat

An image of a movie screen showing the desert by Farrah Rodriguez. 

Tucson has a lot of places you can see a movie, specifically a lot for a city its size. Tucson isn’t known for being a big city. As much as it’s sizable, we know Phoenix is bigger, and Tucsonans seem to be happy being a “smaller city.” However, it stands out to me that Tucson has so many movie theaters.

In total, Tucson has about twelve places you can regularly see a movie, some of them fairly close to each other. Each movie theater in town serves a different purpose, but which one is the best one for you to see a movie? In this list, you can see just where the best places are and why!

12. AMC Foothills

AMC Foothills serves the Foothills community and other northern neighborhoods. It also houses Tucson’s only IMAX theater, which makes it a worthy place to see a blockbuster. So why is it at the bottom of this list?

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AMC Foothills is in Foothills Mall, a mall that is almost entirely closed at this point. It has a couple of smaller stores and a Barnes and Noble, but most of its storefronts are empty, and it feels different to walk through from the other malls. Whereas Park Mall and Tucson Mall are still vibrant shopping centers, Foothills Mall feels creepy; to walk through Foothills Mall is to walk through a mall’s ghost. It’s not a pleasant feeling, and that stops seeing a movie there from being a pleasant experience.

The auditoriums are clean, and the concession stand is vibrant, with a full bar and plenty of hot food options. But the locale of Foothills Mall just stops AMC Foothills from being recommendable.

11. Century 20 El Con

When you go into a typical Cinemark theater, you expect the comforts of a large chain, most notably the reclining seats that have become commonplace at other Cinemark locations, but also a big, open lobby and easily accessible ticker machines. Century 20 El Con doesn’t have those things. It’s a bare-bones way to see a movie.

However, my ranking of El Con at number eleven also shows the subjectivity and biases present in this list. I have close friends who love El Con. They love it not just for the location, convenient to Central Tucson, but also for the nostalgia factor. It was my parents' movie theater when they were in college, and I believe that’s true for a lot of people in Tucson in their age range. While El Con has something to offer for those reasons, I don’t believe it’s recommendable in general because it’s the same price as other nicer, newer theaters, so it just won’t give you a bang for your buck.

10. Harkins Tucson

Harkins has two locations here in town, but they’re incredibly similar, so I’ve decided to group them together. Harkins is a nice experience. It’s also a distinctly Arizona experience. It’s a chain that originated in Arizona with primarily Arizona locations; that has novelty in and of itself. Harkins also has a wonderful lobby with bright lights and bold, welcoming colors to make a movie feel like an event.

So if I only have positive things to say about Harkins Tucson, why does it rank so low? There’s not much special about it to differentiate it from other mainstream theaters, and it’s hard to recommend it just based on pleasantly average.

9. Century Tucson Marketplace

When Century Tucson Marketplace opened up, it was a big deal — partially because it serves an area in the east of Tucson that needs a movie theater but didn’t have one, and partially because it was said to be fancy. It was billed as a “NextGen” theater, and, at the time, that language was apt. Seeing “Get Out” at Marketplace was the first time I got to see a movie with reclining seats.

Now that those are fairly commonplace, I don’t know that Marketplace is a good theater to recommend to Tucson at large because it doesn’t offer much more than reclining seats, but I love that it exists for the community who needs it in that area.

8. Fox Tucson Theatre

The Fox is an incredibly old theater, and stepping into it is like stepping into the thirties. That’s exactly what makes the Fox so cool; its antique elements, like a restored organ, add to the mystique, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

I spoke with Bonnie Schock, one of the people who runs the Fox, as well as one of its volunteers, and what came through the most was the passion people have for the venue. This historic location has so many people working to keep it running, and that is beautiful.

Schock spoke about the theater’s aesthetic electrically, “The reality of attending an event here all feels good and all feels right. People have so many connections to this space, even when it’s their first time. It's such a gorgeous piece of architecture — the kind of thing you don’t have the opportunity to experience anymore when you go out.”

Volunteer Steve Peterson told me he loved keeping the Fox alive. He talked about how much he loved that building, and his passion for the Fox rubbed off on me immediately. When asked about why people still come to the Fox, Peterson said, “Because I would put it in the top five theaters in the world!” I immediately wanted to just step inside and watch a movie. Even though I’ve been to the Fox many times, I wanted to relive how that theater can affect someone as much as it has Peterson.

The Fox doesn’t show movies as much as most of the other places on this list. It’s primarily a concert venue now. However, I highly recommend seeing a movie there and feeling this core part of Downtown Tucson right in front of you.

In fact, it seemed to me that the Fox had been showing more movies lately than it used to, but Schock swiftly corrected me on that point; she said they’ve been showing movies for a while; people are just more aware of it. Shock said, “We are strategically programming. And the bulk of them usually also involve some type of live event.” Recently, the Fox screened the silent classic “Phantom of the Opera” with live accompaniment. “It’s a totally unique experience for a silent film. You get to experience what it was like almost a hundred years ago,” Schock said. 

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7. Casa Video and Film Bar

Casa is one of the two places on this list that is cheating. It’s not technically a movie theater, but it’s a very fun place to see a movie. Casa is a video rental store. If you’re my age, there’s a good chance you’ve never been inside a video rental store. But Casa is still up and running with food trucks, free popcorn for customers and a fully functioning bar.

When most bars show movies, people aren’t there for the movie — they’re there to talk. But Casa combines a bar atmosphere with a cinematic one, and the two blend quite well, making this one of the more unique destinations on this list.

6. Roadhouse Cinemas

Despite expanding into other cities, Roadhouse is a home-grown Tucson original, and it has a distinctly Tucson vibe. 

Roadhouse’s manager Faith Oliver told me that’s because its creators value Tucson greatly. “We have two owners, both local gentlemen who graduated from the U of A. They are here; they are Tucson. Their love is actually of Tucson and of this business. We’ve just expanded it," Oliver said. 

Roadhouse is also Tucson’s first dine-in theater. It’s simultaneously a movie theater and restaurant; if you want to, you can even go there and just eat with no movie. The food is very good! They also have great wine and dessert.

The real star of Roadhouse is the popcorn. Every theater advertises its popcorn as the best, but I genuinely believe that Roadhouse’s is the best. It has great flavor with multiple options. That combination of things makes Roadhouse a great Tucson locale.


Stay tuned for part two of the top five places to see a movie in Tucson!


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Kate is a sophomore at the University of Arizona. She loves improv comedy and comic books.


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