June 13th, 2008
12:31 PM ET

The big-screen experience

Our friends at EW.com recently put out a gallery of films that the site’s readers would like to see in all their big-screen glory. Among their choices: “Star Wars,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Gone With the Wind” - excellent suggestions, all. (One person picked “Clue,” to which I can only say: It’s not going to get any better.)

The glory of "2001: A Space Odyssey" is best enjoyed on a big screen.

But the longing for seeing these classic films on the big screen makes me feel a little sad, because most of the people who wrote into EW - or, for that matter, most of the rest of us - will never get the chance to enjoy that experience.

(Warning: Old-fart nostalgia on the way.)

Nowadays, if you don’t see a movie in the three months - at the outside - it’s in a theater (and I’m being generous in calling some of those shoeboxes “theaters”), it’s on to video. And though there’s nothing wrong with a DVD, an HDTV and the comfort of your own couch, there’s always going to be something special about sitting in the dark, staring up at an image 20 feet high. Bigger, if it’s IMAX. (I won’t get into the psychological and technical differences between film and video, which are discussed here and here, among other places.)

Of course, the moviegoing experience has been changing for generations. Early films played on nickelodeons, after all; it wasn’t until the 1920s and ‘30s that the giant, “healthfully air-conditioned” movie theater became widespread. At 43, I’m old enough to remember the dawn of the multiplex, which shrunk screens to screening-room dimensions; the words “held over” (“Jaws,” I recall, ran for more than a year at one New Orleans theater); and when VHS tapes cost $89 at the mom-and-pop video store, hence the rise of rentals.

There was also something called the repertory theater, which showed classic, independent and foreign-language films in an ever-changing run. Those theaters still exist, but they’re increasingly hard to find - and, short of the occasional film festival or university, they’re about the only places you’ll see classics on the big screen.

I’m not putting down video; it’s a great boon to have an entire film library at your fingertips through Netflix and other services. And the way TVs are growing, eventually we may all get the wall-sized screens forecast in old science-fiction novels.

But seeing “2001” in full Cinerama with 1,000 equally awestruck theatergoers? Well, you had to be there.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies

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soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Kraig Rasool

    Here in the Nations Capitol.... (Washington DC). We are soooo happy to have one of the largest, grandest, most interesting movie screens
    around.... Its called the "The Uptown Theatre". According to some
    historians its been around since the the 1940's... Of course I wasnt even thought of, however I have seen many flims there such as
    Brahm Stokers Dracula, The Matrix, Indiana Jones previous movies,
    Spiderman series of films....etc, many more to much to mention here.
    The theatre has a half round screen with balcony seating that everyone runs for after being aloud in.... Workers still come around and serve popcorn to you while you are getting comfortable, and just after the previews the screen closes it curtains and than immeadiately opens them again as the movie is starting...Its an experience to be had by those who havent been.... WOW is the main word...

    July 1, 2008 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. dave

    There's obviously a reason these films aren't shown, they don't make money. Very few places can sustain a theatre that only shows the older movies. It kind of amazes me but it must be true or every city would have at least one theatre that specialized in it.

    I'm suprised they don't rerelease at least one classic every year though. You know they'd make tons of money if 2001 was rereleased nationwide.

    June 30, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Terry from New York

    Movies are made to be seen on a big screen. All the classics we watch on TV or DVD were meant to be seen on the big screen in a theater and most importantly with an audience. The folks who complain about obnoxious members of the audiences might be going to the wrong theater at the wrong time of day. I went to see "300" in the late afternoon here in NYC and was appalled with my fellow audience members, but I saw "The Queen" in the same theater on a different date and time and the audience was intent on seeing the movie not milling about the theater talking. Idiots in the audience are the only draw back to seeing a movie like "Spartacus" or "Rear Window" in a theater. I think most audiences are well behaved, just be careful choosing when and where you go. All these films are being "restored". Surely if theaters started showing them the idea would catch on and we'd all start going back to theaters to see new and old films. When they released the restored “Lawrence of Arabia” in the late 80’s the line was around the block and the audience, many of whom were young and had never seen it on the big screen, were blown away with the film’s cinematic grandeur. They applauded the overture! I too enjoyed seeing “Blade Runner” on the big screen again recently. No, there really is no comparison with films seen on a big TV and a big screen in a theater. Even less spectacular films – like “Some Like It Hot” – are better up there on a 20 foot tall screen with an audience. Hope someone convinces studios to start showing them again in all their big screen glory. We are too isolated in our home cubicles – let’s get out and have a group experience! Good movies are for all times.

    June 26, 2008 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Greg T West

    My movie experience gets diminished when other countries are treated to premiers (of American films) first. If a movie is made in America, has American star, American producer, American Director, and takes place in America, then why does the rest of the world get to see it a week before Americans do?

    June 25, 2008 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. pete

    i just saw king fu panda on the i-max screen and i so reccomend that you pay the bucks and see it this way. i was blown away. it was uber-fabulous..

    June 24, 2008 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    "But seeing “2001” in full Cinerama with 1,000 equally awestruck theatergoers? Well, you had to be there."

    I was there. A month ago, at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD. Constantly showing classic as well as some current films, the place is an absolute cinematic treasure.

    June 24, 2008 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. Andrew in Chicago

    Here is Chicago we have the Music Box Theater for art and classic films. It comes complete with an organ and "clouds" drifing accros the roof of the ornate hall. The latest theaters to be built in the area are predominantly by Century. THe houses are big with great sound and stadium seating. In Evanston IL they have two theaters in one. The 16 screan complex for mainstream shows and a six screen "cine arts" house with a great loby bar with a full bar service and very often jazz combos and vocalists and such. In general I go to see a film if it is a "big" visual movie. I've found the best way to avoid the unruely mobs is to go to the late show. Having said that half the time I don't have the time to see the movie and it eventually comes as a netflix.

    June 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. David Miller

    I agree with others who have expressed thoughts on what an exciting event movie going was at one time. I have fond memories of the days when the movie houses, even the smaller neighbor ones, had a curtain in front of the screen that would be opened just before the movie began. This added to the atmosphere of being at something special even in the days prior to the "summer blockbuster" which kicked off with 1975's "Jaws".
    Over the years I've also found the theater going experience less enjoyable for all of the reasons others have mentioned. I see fewer films first run in theaters and catch more later on dvd or cable.
    Some current films have to be seen on a larger screen, but there are no more David Lean's directing epic films such as Lawrence of Arabia, so a small screen is adequate for most of todays films.
    I'd also add to the list of must see on a big screen- Hitchcock's
    "Rear Window", "Vertigo", along with a 3D version of "Dial M for Murder".

    June 16, 2008 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. elly

    i pine for a combination of films i'm not old enough to have seen when they were released and ones i could've seen but just didn't. star wars ain't on the list, because i DID see it, when it was re-released in '96 (though the no-warning "greedo shot first" was one of the horrific moments of my young life. :p ).

    My list:, in no order: Lawrence of Arabia, 2001, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, The Seven Samurai, The Sound Of Music, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (too much fun in a packed house!!), The Fifth Element, Ronin, Children of Men, My Neighbour Totoro (imagine the giant totoro ACTUALLY giant! magic!), and The Ghost in the Shell.

    moving to edmonton soon, maybe they'll have a repertory theatre there. fingers crossed!

    June 16, 2008 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  10. John D

    If you can find a good one many art theaters till have cinemascope wide screen projection. I remember watching Hitchcock's North by Northwest in cinemascope. There was absolutely no comparison or way you could ever get the same experence on a smaller screen or via video.

    June 16, 2008 at 4:21 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jenn

    As much as I loved watching movies on the big screen, I don't go to the theaters anymore. I'm tired of missing half the dialogue because people are too rude to SHUT UP during the movie. I recently saw the 4th Indiana Jones movie in the theater because my husband wanted to see it on the big screen. $18 for tickets, a tiny theater, LOTS of children (under the age of 8) and 4 infants. Who brings an infant to the movies, especially one that you KNOW will be a loud action-adventure movie?!? I got so fed up with the constant crying, shushing, and "mommy, mommy, mommy", that I left. The manager was less than useless, he just didn't want to get involved. This is why I don't bother with the theaters anymore.

    June 15, 2008 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mike Fraser

    I remember the first movie I saw when I was 3 years old. It was back in 1977 and that movie was Star Wars. From then on in I was hooked. I'm a huge film buff because of that film and it set a fire in my for passion to make films.

    Nothing can beat seeing a movie on the big screen in a packed theatre. I feel it adds to the overall experience of movie going, getting to see the reactions of others.

    The small film house in my home town has sadly come and gone, but I remember many an enjoyable night growing up and seeing all the excitement on the big screen.

    With all the advancements in technology we can enjoy movies in our own home now with HD picture and lossless sound. But to this day I still find nothing beats going to the theatre and seeing the movie the way it was meant to be seen..on the big screen.

    June 15, 2008 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    I also fondly recall seeing "2001: A Space Odyssey" in Cinerama (some 5+ times, IIRC!) However, another film that wasn't on EW's list is "The Wizard of Oz". Like most people, I had seen it on TV every year and had even bought it on video when a local revival theater showed it. All I could say was, "Wow!" It was an utterly jaw-dropping experience to see something so familiar have such impact.

    Another film that everyone should see at last once on a big screen is Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece "Metropolis". Finally, I'd nominate "Fantasia" and "Yellow Submarine". Like "2001", these films benefit greatly from being shown in an environment where your can immerse yourself in them.

    June 15, 2008 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rick Y.

    Going to the theater to see a movie use to be a exciting event, due to not only the huge screen but also for the interaction that being in a big audience let you experience. I can remember seeing Blazing Saddles in the theater and the whole audience in hysterics was part of the enjoyment. This too though, has become a double edged sword as nowadays the illumination from all the people texting on their cell phones (or chatting away) along with the smaller screens, higher prices, etc. make me wait to just see it on DVD.

    June 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mikep

    Wow...Todd Leopold must be getting money or perks from the movie studios or theaters for writing this garbage.

    June 15, 2008 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  16. Kim

    I saw Star Wars on the big screen for the first time on vacation in Nantucket (from Central Mass). It was a rainy day, and we walked in a few minutes late, right as the Imperial Star Cruiser was making its debut. I remember that moment to this day as one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in a theater. That was also back in the day when the movies would stay in the theater more than that generous three months if it was popular, and kids would boast how many times they had seen it. I remember one class mate had seen it 33 times by October of that year. And to Alan on the drive in theater – hear, hear! We used to go with another family every Friday night when I was growing up (I remember most vividly seeing the Witch Mountain films in the drive in)... and I was appalled to find out a few months ago that my husband has never in his 39 yrs been to one. . .

    June 14, 2008 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  17. barr

    On Midnight Cowboy's 25th anniversary, it was re-released on the big screen and I raced out to see it for the first time at 24. It was a perfect screening for me. I wish there were a theatre in every town (well, okay, every big city then?) that exclusively showed old movies. I really think there would be a market for them. Who wouldn't be there for their favourites?

    June 14, 2008 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Ryan

    The Uptown Theater in Minneapolis shows a different film every Saturday night at midnight. They range from cult classics to more modern classics, but they have shown some really great older films as well. It's definately a more college-crowd oriented thing, but it's still a great place to see great films on the big screen. I recently got to see The Manchurian Candidate (1962) on the big screen in Edina. It was marvellous.

    June 14, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Alicia

    How can we forget when we were also able to pay to see a movie and, if we wanted to, stay for another showing – for free. You could sit in the theater ALL DAY long if you wanted to. I will never forget the first time me and my parents and sister went to the movies and were told we had to pay again to see it again.

    Geez, I feel OLD.

    June 14, 2008 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  20. Andrew

    I also live in Los Angeles and if you look for showings of these types of films, one can easily find them. I'm sure that's not the case in most other cities. I'm also very fortunate to attend USC's School of Cinematic Arts and am treated to films like this every week in 70, 35, and 16mm. But there is no substitute for watching these films on the big screen.

    June 14, 2008 at 3:44 am | Report abuse |
  21. James Peacock

    I used to work for General Cinemas about 10 years ago, and still have a love for a good movie in the theater. Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Island of the Crystal Skull, all belong in a theater, bigger than life, not at home in a 42" plasma. When I was working, we had Titanic, which was probably the last blockbuster ever made. I saw it easily 30 times or so, start to end, and the sheer size of the ship is best captured when it's larger than you are. I missed out on watching Grand Prix on the big screen, in cinerama no less, and really wish I'd seen it. I did get to see Star Wars, the original series, and the Indiana Jones series and a lot of others on the big screen as I grew up, and will always be drawn to certain movies at the theaters. Nothing says a movie like giant explosions of talking robots on a big screen.

    June 14, 2008 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  22. Carolann

    I was one of the fortunate. I got to see GONE WITH THE WIND on the big screen at Radio City Music Hall when it was brought back for a short engagement in the 60's. My grandmother gathered up all her NYC grandchildren and we all went to see it. I have never forgotten that experience.

    June 13, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Dave

    They dont show older stuff very often anymore, but if your in the Washington D.C. area, definitely make an effort to catch a film at the Uptown Theatre right down the street from the Zoo. Its a great older movie palace with a fabulously huge curved screen. Star Wars played there for a year back in 1977-78. Indiana Jones was amazing seeing it there. Speaking of D.C., the old CIrcle theatre downtown featured some of the best double bills of older movies you could ever imagine.

    June 13, 2008 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  24. ByronT

    What a great article. It does bring back good memories of a real movie going 'Experience'. I remember seeing (in Cinerama) movies like '2001', 'Grand Prix', and 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World'.

    Even if a theater was set up to show these old classics on a big screen, would it still be possible to get high quality copies of these films that would look good with today's modern projection systems.

    It would great if there was a theater in town that continually showed
    'Big Screen' Classics.

    thanks for the memories.

    ByronT – Tulsa, Ok

    June 13, 2008 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  25. James

    I live in L.A. and there are actually TONS of old great movies shown on the big screen all the time. It goes in cycles, and they'll occasionally have spotlights on certain directors or time periods. But at places like the Egyptian or other smaller but famous theatres in L.A. you can get month long schedules for the films they show and there's always several classics playing. If you're ever in Los Angeles for a little trip and want to see some classics on the big screen, definitely check the small theatres out! Plus, they usually have some of the actors or directors come and talk before and afterward as well, which is really cool!

    June 13, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Sara

    When I was high school (only 15 years ago), we had an old movie palace that two film buffs were trying to revive. They played 2001, Lawrence of Arabia and hosts of other fantastic films. They even played silents with live organ accompaniment. Unfortunately, it was still a losing money proposition for them, and they had to close down the effort after about 6 years. The last film was Charlie Chaplin's City Lights and my husband and I made the 500 mile round trip drive to be there. Now the theatre is a chapel and I have no idea if that huge screen is still there. What a shame that the people of Milwaukee didn't try harder to save that precious resource.

    June 13, 2008 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Mercy

    BladeRunner came back to the theatre and that made my day and thrilled my boyfriend who had never seen it on the big screen. Better yet, the showing was attended by uber geeks sporting all sorts of souvineers including one guy in a silk jacket embroidered with the logo in Japanese!

    I remember when Star Wars came out and it was re-released the next year. I think I spent every sunday of the entire summer watching it over and over and over (of course, matinee tix were $3.00 and they let you stay all day).

    June 13, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Marianne

    There is something magical about seeing a movie on the big screen, in a big movie theater, how the director planned on it being viewed. Up until a few years ago, one local theater (it actually had a balcony in it and fairies painted on the walls in a tropical forest setting) played classic and not-so-classic movies every weekend at midnight. The entire place would fill up Friday and Saturday night, people in the audience would speak along with the movie dialogue because they knew and loved the movies so well, and no body cared about the extra people around them being somewhat obnoxious. It was an experience and an event, shared, for a short time, with strangers and friends in a happy place, who bonded together in the magic that made going to the movies in the first place, special.

    June 13, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Alan

    Another experience that is fading away is the drive-in theater. Next weekend I'm taking my wife and son (who have never been to one) on a brief road trip to a drive in cinema that is still open for business in the summer. They've kept it open for decades and even renovated it recently. It builds up its uniqueness and nostalgia the longer time goes on and I guess thats what keeps them in business now more than in the past.

    June 13, 2008 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Benst1

    In Albany, NY; the Palace Theater will show a big-screen movie about once a month. I will sometimes go, but, I think if the movie theaters really want to keep people from staying home, they should upgrade to Maxivision 48. Maxivision 48 is the patented system where the 35mm film projector shows movies at 48 frames per second versus the standard 24 fps film projector. It was invented by film editor Dean Goodhill in 1999. To quote Roger Ebert: Maxivision 48 is Four Times better that the image currently shown at most theaters." The movie theaters don't seem interested in Maxivison 48 and the number of people going to the cinema to see movies is going downhill, (when inflation is taken into account). Upgrading to Maxivision 48 would not cost that much. Sticking with the current system, or spending money on gimmicks such as digital, IMAX, or 3D just aren't going to keep people going to the theaters. The movie theaters should upgrade to Maxivision 48 or see the walk-in theater become virtually obsolete like the almost extinct drive-in theater. If big-screen theaters showed movies in the Maxivision 48 format; that would bring people back to the cinema.

    June 13, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Al Myers

    Yes, the experience of seeing films on large screens in theatres was wondersul – before theatres started running advertisements, before idiots in the audience with cell-phones, before the prices of refreshemnts became ridiculously high and when they had smoking sections, Now, at home, I have a 61" TV and 5.1 surround. The sound is better at home, the picture is clearer (Blu-Ray) and I can enjoy the movie without the usual theatre's lousy sound and the other gripes I mentioned earlier.

    June 13, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  32. bfett

    The Great Race. I would have loved to have seen Natalie Wood in the greatest of all pie fights on the big screen.

    June 13, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  33. erin

    This past spring the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ screened a series of classic films, including Breakfast at Tiffany's, Singin' in the Rain and ET and several others. It was pretty cool to see these movies on the big screen – I wish there were more opportunities to do so!

    June 13, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Laurie Mann

    I did see 2001 in all its Cinerama glory back in April 1968. My mother took us to "the big city" (Boston) to see it. It was fabulous! Sadly, we had to leave BEFORE THE ENDING to catch the bus back to the far west suburbs. I didn't see the whole movie until it was released at some point in the '70s (but not in Cinerama that time). Much as we enjoy watching movies in the comfort of our own home, there's nothing like seeing a movie photographed for the big screen on a big screen.

    June 13, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |

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