Modern movie theaters have to compete with the formidable likes of Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime for viewers’ attention. To get those viewers off their comfy couches and away from their remotes, theaters are offering an experience far different than those of years past.
Stairsteps raise each row of seats above the rows in front of them, so there are no heads in viewers’ lines of vision. Those seats—now reserved—are often leather recliners with footrests and swing-out tables. You can still get Raisinets, Milk Duds, Twizzlers and popcorn at concession stands, plus more elaborate snacks like nachos, Bavarian pretzels, pizza, wings, sandwiches, sliders, and corn dogs. Little Rock Movie Tavern at 11300 Bass Pro Parkway has a full kitchen and bar that serves made-to-order appetizers, brunch dishes, en-trees such as Vietnamese rice bowls and baked rigatoni, fresh salads, wine and beer, and premium cocktails.
All this comes with a price. But theaters are destinations now, not just venues to watch movies.
This brings to mind recollections of what movie theaters used to be like. A recent column in this space mentioned how we mourn for restaurants and stores and services and structures that have faded away. Let’s add some movie venues to that list, with thanks to readers and the helpful website cinematreasures.org for contributions:
Cinema 150, 3915 S. University Ave. The UA Cinema 150 opened in 1978 with Jack Lemmon in The Odd Couple. Constructed in the parking lot of a nondescript shopping center at Asher and University (its most impressive tenant was Casa Bonita, a Tex-Mex restaurant that served terrific sopapillas; you could get more of them by raising a little flag on your table), its Jetsons-era architecture featured a huge dome roof and a 70-foot-wide curved screen that could show standard 35mm films along with higher-resolution 70mm and seldom-used D-150 formats.
It closed in 2003, the last operating D-150 theater in the country. The building, which was used as a concert venue for a while (the last time I visited was a few years back for the always wacky Christmas Karaoke show sponsored by radio station KABZ 103.7, The Buzz), was demolished in 2015.
Razorback Twin Drive-in/Big Red Twin Drive-in, 2600 Cantrell Road. I moved here around the time this theater, which underwent assorted name changes since it opened in 1953, closed in the 1980s, so I never visited it. It had two screens and could accommodate 800 cars. Plenty of longtime Little Rock residents have memories (some foggier than others) of evenings spent here.
Heights Theatre, 5600 Kavanaugh Blvd. This neighborhood theater (its building also was home to Chinese restaurant Fu Lin and is now occupied by fashion-forward Feinstein’s and a bank) opened in 1946 with Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven. I remember it was known for rowdy un-Heights-like late-night showings of films such as Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was eventually split into two theaters when such became fashionable.
Wynnsong 10, 12200 Westhaven Drive, Little Rock. Carmike opened this stylish 10-screener in 1995, just before stadium seating became a thing. It was near a west Little Rock house we occupied at the time; my husband and I write a lot of movie reviews, so we were there a lot. The only time Wynnsong disappointed us was when we didn’t go to work on a treacherously icy winter day and hiked through the snow to while away the afternoon in front of a big screen, only to find that the crew at Wynnsong, too, took off. It closed in 2005, a victim of that no-stadium-seating situation. It’s now the location of LISA Academy Chenal.
CinemarkTandyTheatres,4188 E.McCainBlvd.,NorthLittleRock. Tandy opened in 1991 and was operated as a $1 discount house. According to cinematreasures.org, it had RealD 3D, digital presentation, and self-service ticketing long before those became available everywhere. I recall going there on a sweltering summer afternoon to see something or other; it was so cold inside the theater that when we came out we got in our car, where the temperature must have been insanely high, and sat there for around 10 minutes, windows closed, in an effort to warm up. It closed in 2014. Mapquest reports there’s a Dick’s Sporting Good at that location now.
Market Street Cinema, 1521 Merrill Drive. This small multiplex, said to have opened in 1986, started out as a discount second-run house with its previous owner, then blew all the mainstream theaters away by showing a cutting-edge lineup of independent and foreign films—Little Rock had equal and often greater access to such treasures than famously alternative cities such as Austin and Seattle.
Despite sticky floors, creaky seats, and sound bleed from one theater to the next, it was a unique experience, and was among the first to serve beyond-candy snacks, beer, and wine at the concession stand. It closed in 2014, when then owner Matt Smith opened Riverdale 10—delivering a full modern theater experience with leather reclining seats, an extensive concession menu, beer and wine, and more of those independent and foreign films that make Little Rock’s movie scene so special.
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.
Print Headline: KAREN MARTIN: Cinema’s switch to mass entertainment