A Beginner’s Guide to New York City Movie Theaters

New to St. John’s? Here are the best places to see the latest releases.

Torch Photo  / Connor Richards

Films are built for theaters and certain elements of the viewing experience cannot be replicated at home: the scent of fresh popcorn, a collective gasp at the big plot twist — even that feeling when your eyes struggle to adjust to the sunlight following a weekend matinee.

These characteristics, among several others, are why I fell in love with going to the movies. I am a proud member of the A-List at AMC Theatres, which allows me to see up to three movies per week at a monthly cost. Needless to say, I have sat in my fair share of theaters over the past two years.

With that being said, not all movie theaters are created equally. The offerings of different theater chains play a massive role in where one should see the latest flick. In a place like New York City, the options can be overwhelming: Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres combine for over 20 locations in the Big Apple.

Hailing from the Poconos, I was once unsure of the best spots around here myself. These days, I know exactly where I want to go based on what I hope to see. Keep in mind, while these suggestions center on the offerings of large chains, locally owned theaters can be fantastic hidden gems as well.

Convenience Picks

For a casual moviegoer, the minor details of a visit may not be vital; in this instance, one just wants to see the latest releases as close to campus as possible. In this situation, either Regal UA Midway in Forest Hills or AMC Fresh Meadows 7 are the places for you. They are accessible from campus via the subway and bus, respectively, while one could certainly walk to the latter if needed. As a bonus, there are excellent dining options in close proximity to both locations; Fresh Meadows is home to Applebee’s, Qdoba and Blaze Pizza, while Forest Hills has countless offerings along its popular Austin Street.

However, each presents similar potential issues. They house fewer screens than the next options, meaning less showtimes, and thus less flexibility when making plans. Additionally, while AMC Fresh Meadows 7 has a small IMAX theater, UA Midway’s only premium offering is 3D. Luckily, both locations have recliners in their theaters.

For the Best Experience…

While there is certainly nothing wrong with those aforementioned locations, a short subway ride to Manhattan opens many doors to premium theater experiences. The best of these would be at AMC Lincoln Square 13. This has been one of the top locations for movie premieres in New York City, even playing host to the debut of Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” short film last year.

While it may not hold the number of screens that some of its counterparts have, its IMAX theater is located on its own floor with private concession stands and bathrooms. It boasts the largest IMAX screen in North America, something that plays a massive role in the film experience (e.g., 2021’s “Dune”). Meanwhile, this AMC also houses a massive Dolby Cinema theater with balcony seating, a rarity in the industry.

Combining these offerings with the consistent, exceptional service AMC provides, this is undoubtedly a favorite theater in New York. The building is historic, but not to a fault as there has been plenty of renovations to keep it well-maintained. For anything above a typical digital cinema screening, AMC Lincoln Square 13 is the place to go.

Other Options in Manhattan

AMC Theatres’ other two major locations, AMC Empire 25 in Times Square and AMC 34th Street 14, are also great options. With 25 screens in Times Square, there are always plenty of showtimes to choose from and several premium formats to explore. Down by Penn Station, 34th Street 14 has an excellent selection of films and formats as well. What sets them apart is their heated recliners, something that can be found in nearly every one of their 14 theaters.

As you head into lower Manhattan, Regal Cinemas begins to outnumber the area’s AMC locations. Regal Union Square is the best option here, as it is home to one of the only 4DX theaters in our area. This includes moving seats, water and wind effects and even scents that correspond to what you are watching. While it is certainly one of the most expensive ways to see a film, it is worth doing at least once.

Regal versus AMC

With these two chains dominating the movie theater market in New York City, most moviegoers have to ultimately choose between Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres when they want to see a new release. Their pricing is similar, but it is important to note where the companies differentiate themselves.

No trip to the theater is complete without a stop at the concessions stand. In this category, AMC boasts a strong advantage with its offerings. From curly fries to mozzarella sticks to chicken tenders, there is more to try at AMC than just the popcorn (which also bests Regal’s). Not to mention, AMC Theatres are now equipped with Coke Freestyle machines for their fountain drinks.

For moviegoers that enjoy ordering tickets ahead of time, both companies offer mobile apps to assist with planning a visit. While AMC’s design is more user-friendly, Regal’s app houses the superior rewards program where users can earn points at a faster rate. With that in mind, AMC’s tiered memberships (manageable within their app) do more to better the experience, such as offer free wi-fi, waived convenience fees and free size upgrades on concession purchases.

Even beyond my recommendations, there are clearly several options for cinema fanatics in this city. Much like the films people enjoy, everyone has their own preferences and favorites. New students and New York visitors should take this opportunity to explore New York’s many cinematic offerings.