In the battle for your movie dollar, the Triangle has been popping! Higher end theaters with stadium seating and upgraded food menus are upping the ante for movie-watching in the Triangle. And who can blame them given the great home theater set-ups many of us have at home? Without making the cinema experience stellar, we would never leave our family rooms, amiright? But in the summer heat, there’s often nothing better than catching the latest flick in a deluxe movie theater with all the bells and whistles. I’ve been able to try most of the super cinemas in the area, here’s my take on what you get for your movie-watching dollar at each one!
First up is the classic IMAX Theatre at Marbles in Raleigh! For a while, IMAX was the only real luxe movie-watching experience in the Triangle. From the enormous screen (70′ by 52′) to the seat-shaking Dolby sound system pumping out 24,000 watts of sonic thunder, the IMAX still rocks it out for the right movies. If you’ve got a great 3-D movie with top notch cinematography and sound, IMAX will blow you away. I’ve seen Inception, Gravity and Avatar at the IMAX and it truly feels as if you’re IN the movie. The stadium seating gives you an unfettered view of all the action, the only bad seats are the 3 or 4 rows up front. The seats, while comfortable, are your more typical seats with drop-down arm-rests and cup-holders.
Tickets for IMAX are $11 (2-D) and up which isn’t bad at all given the screen size. Concessions are reasonably priced ($3 to $7) but very basic and limited in selection (candy, popcorn, soft drinks, wine-beer). Note that you also can NOT choose your seat at IMAX Raleigh which means you’ll have to queue up early to ensure great seats for the hottest movies. What you’ll give up here at IMAX Raleigh is the comfy leather recliners and expanded food-drink menu. But still, even with all the less modern movie theater operations here at IMAX, it delivers a stellar movie-watching experience for the right movies. Choose wisely and you’ll be blown away by whats on-screen at IMAX Theatre at Marbles.
The newest entry in the super movie theater list is the Alamo Drafthouse Raleigh which just opened in April of 2018. Located in E. Raleigh, downtown Oak City residents finally now have an option for a movie with reserved seating! Inside Alamo Drafthouse it feels like a devotional to the cinematic and movie experience. You’ll find a bar up front and the Video Vortex (video rental store) decked out in pink neon. The Video Vortex rents out movies for free that range across the classic genres and is built for movie buffs. Behind the Alamo Drafthouse bar is a slew of beer taps for you beer lovers, over 30 taps! Food is served inside the theater and throughout the movie with an assortment of apps, salads, pizzas, burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches from $7 to $15. The menu is squarely in the middle in terms of assortment, below Cinebistro and above the Raleigh Grande.
Inside the Alamo Drafthouse theater you’ll find soft, plush leather recliners with motorized foot-rests. The seats are individual seats without movable arm-rests and while the rows are not stadium-style, there’s plenty of rise between the rows. Each recliner has a fixed table with lighting underneath. You’ll need the light to fill out your menu requests which will be handled by the wait-staff. I tried out a tasty cast-iron skillet of chicken meatballs with garlic bread which were perfect for a late night snack.
The screen for my movie was excellent with a decent sound-system, I’ll have to get back for a more challenging movie to see what they can really do. Also note that Alamo Drafthouse has a strict, no texting, no talking during the movie policy and will toss you out after a warning if people complain. You have been warned, movie-talkers! Overall I was pretty impressed with Alamo Drafthouse, it reminds me of a more casual Cinebistro with decent eats and screens along with lower prices ($8 to $11.50 for 2-D tickets).
Next up on my super cinema list is Cinebistro at Waverly Place in Cary! Cinebistro was the first of the newer luxe movie theaters in the area, bringing together food, drink and the show all in one venue. And it’s still one of the best! With a full bar and lobby at the entrance, you know you’re in for a special experience. Billed as dinner and a movie, you show up early for your movie, order and are served in the theater for your meal. And the food here at Cinebistro is quite good, my faves include the cheesesteak sandwich and lobster sliders. Once the movie starts, you’ll have to self-serve your dishes and any additional drinks-eats at Cinebistro.
Seating at Cinebistro is luxurious, leather recliner seating with motorized foot-rests that allow you to kick back to enjoy the movie! While Cinebistro does not have stadium style seating, you do recline back to get a good view of the excellent raised screens. Cinebistro tickets can be purchased online through Fandango and range from $13.50 to $16. Note that after 6pm, Cinebistro is 21 and over. But I can tell you for sure that Cinebistro hits the trifecta of great food, great screens and great seating. The only major drawback is the price, you can easily drop $50 here on popcorn and food, ouch. For more details, check out my full review of Cinebistro in Cary.
Heading up a bit further north is the Raleigh Grande! For years, the Raleigh Grande was a traditional movie theater but a renovation in 2016 brought stadium type seating and an expanded food menu. Inside, not only does the Raleigh Grande have tiered stadium style seating but also the same motorized recliners found at Cinebistro. What is nice is that the Raleigh Grande provides a more private viewing experience with walls behind each row of seats, creating some real separation.
For food you have your standard popcorn and soft drinks but the expanded theater menu includes sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken tenders, pizza and more! If you’re ordering hot food, they’ll give you a buzzer to bring to the theater and once it goes off, meet your server in the hallway outside your theater to get your food! The Raleigh Grande also has decent draft beer and wines available here for your movie. I’ve tried out just a handful of items off their menu but I can tell you that they do a solid chicken tenders plate for $7 along with some truffle fries for $4.
And tickets at the Raleigh Grande have stayed an affordable $9.50 so you won’t break the bank here on either tickets or food. I’ve managed to catch a couple of movies here and if your focus is more on the movie than the food, you can’t go wrong at the Raleigh Grande. While the food is more garden variety, higher end movie-theater fare, the screens and movie-watching experience more than make up for that slight miss. Plus you’ve got the Lynnwood Brewing Concern right across the street if you’re hungry!
Now let’s head back down to Cary and the new Frank CineBowl! This bowling alley and cinema presents another spin on the deluxe movie theatre experience. Up front and to the right you’ll find the bowling alley lit up in neon. Above the bowling alley area is an arcade with some fun games like Pop-a-Shot, skee-ball and more. And to the left, you’ve got your luxe movie theaters! Like Cinebistro, they serve food right up in the theater but like Raleigh Grande, they offer up stadium style seating with motorized leather seats. So you’ve got the best of both worlds at CineBowl & Grille.
The food menu here is upgraded theater food but it’s not bad at all! I ordered up a ridiculous plate of tater tots which was a ginormous, heaping mound of crisp tots covered with two types of cheese sauce, bacon, and scallions, delicious! But I could have fed a family of four off these tots. The rest of the menu runs the gamut of wings, tacos, sandwiches, burgers and entrees, plenty good but more casual than Cinebistro. With ticket prices in the $12 to $15 range, Frank Theatres CineBowl & Grille is an excellent option if you’re looking for food AND a movie.
And finally, our last super theater: Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill. Located off of S. Estes Drive on the west side of University Place, Silverspot mixes things up a bit compared to the previous four super cinemas! Silverspot offers the upscale Trilogy Restaurant at the front of the cinema for a pre-show dinner or take-out box for in-theater dining. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can grab some eats at the more standard concessions area. I’ve done a media dinner at Trilogy Restaurant and it is certainly the highest-end food available if you dine in. Check out my full review here!
Silverspot is pretty modern and offers ticket kiosks on a wall to grab your seat if you don’t order your ticket online. Once you get your eats, move on into the movie theater section where you’ll find yourself in a luxe seating area but different from the other options on this list. Silverspot offers plush leather seating in a stadium (tiered) setting BUT the seats are not motorized and don’t offer foot-rests. The front row does have leather ottomans available to kick up your feet but you won’t be able to do that for the back rows.
So there you go! A quick trip and overview through most of the top movie theaters in the area. What’s really interesting is that they all offer slightly different food, seating options and movie watching experiences. So choose wisely based upon your needs, location and interests. Some days I’m in more of a dining mood and want the food. Other times it’s all about the movie watching experience. But I’m pretty certain that one of these deluxe, blinged out movie theatres will suit you fine!
Raleigh, NC 27601
Raleigh, NC 27613
Parkside Town Commons
Cary, NC 27519
Cary, NC 27518
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
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