If you want a positive experience at a Bay Area theater, you need to find the right one. For me, the perfect theater is affordable, in a safe location so I can go to late movies without being mugged or harassed, and has a respectful group of movie-goers who know quiet time starts when the movie does. Alameda Theatre is therefore my ideal movie theater, and we'll get to why after I give you a little info on other Bay Area theaters you might be considering.
The Regal Cinemas at Jack London Square is, unarguably, the most affordable theater if price is your only concern. On Tuesdays and Sundays, tickets are just $5 without restrictions ($8 for 3D movies). And if you're a Regal Crown Club member, your ticket purchase earns you points towards free drinks, popcorn, and movie tickets. That being said, safety might make you rethink this theater. In 2012, there was a shooting just outside the doors of the Jack London Regal Cinemas, and homeless people who roam the area can be both very verbal and very confrontational. You often have to fight large crowds, which you can avoid somewhat by using the ticket kiosk rather than going to the window. And your fellow movie-goers are often loud, rowdy, and just plain hostile. Expect talking, shouting, chair-kicking, and the occasional racial slur during your feature.
Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, on the other hand, is in a moderately safe area and, though crowds do get large from time to time, movie-goers are reasonably peaceful and respectful. The Grand Lake also has a classic feel with its old neon sign, giant theaters with carved, ornamental walls and curtains, and the semi-tacky concession stand. General admission is $10 with a matinee at $7. Getting to and parking at the theater, however, drops this one down the ladder. It's situated right in front of the off-ramp of the freeway, and it is difficult to turn around or circle back when looking for a parking spot. And parking. Metered. Yikes. Guess it's the late movie so you can avoid the parking cost, but then you pay a higher ticket price.
There's also a Regal Cinema in Dublin, but this is a long way for a lot of people to drive or BART. Plus, the ticket prices are OUTRAGEOUS. And there are often loud and poorly controlled kids even in adult movies. Theaters in Emeryville and San Francisco might be nice if you are in those cities for other things, but driving, parking, and even BARTing to these locations isn't worth it.
Alameda Theatre in Alameda (of course) is reasonably priced. General admission is $10.50, and a matinee is $7.75. However, parking is CHEAP. There's a parking garage attached to the theater, and it only cost me $2 for four hours of parking. Plus, you get a parking voucher for your next visit if you ask for one at the box office. And, trust me, you'll want to hang out after the movie because Park Street has a ton of cute, local eateries and shops. Alameda Theatre is also beautiful and full of history. The lobby is high-ceilinged, rich-hued, and ornate. The theater was designed by Timothy Pflueger and opened in 1932. You can watch a documentary on the theater's history at the theater's website: www.alamedatheatres.com. Your fellow movie-goers are also respectful and quiet during the movie, the neighborhood is not only safe but buzzing with local life, and you don't have to fight large crowds to see your film of choice. This theater also plays classic films at reduced prices and has community talent shows. Did I mention they recycle and compost?