The District’s movie theater resurgence


Union Market hosted a drive-in theater last summer, but an eight-screen theater is scheduled to open next door next summer. (Macy Freeman/The Washington Post)

movie theater boom is underway in the District, as new theaters scheduled to open in the coming years will bring dozens of screens to parts of D.C. currently lacking in cinemas.

Aaron Wiener noted the numbers over at Housing Complex:

The District currently has 49 commercial movie-theater screens, not counting the IMAX theater at the Smithsonian (or the myriad screening rooms at culture institutions). In the next few years, we’re set to get an additional 40 screens. The arrival of Landmark cinemas in NoMa and on V Street NW, an Angelika theater at Union Market, and a 16-screen theater (D.C.’s biggest) in Capitol Riverfront will increase the city’s number of screens by a full 82 percent.

Currently, the District’s commercial movie theaters are scattered along a quasi-L-shaped path that cuts across a fairly slim swath of the city. That stretch runs from AMC Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights and the nearby Avalon Theatre down past the AMC Loews Uptown’s single screen in Cleveland Park, pivots at the AMC Loews Georgetown 14 and the smaller West End Cinema and continues east through the artier E Street Cinema and the more mainstream Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14.

(This focuses just on the District, of course, ignoring the theater options available in the surrounding communities. And, as Wiener notes, this doesn’t include the IMAX theaters at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and National Museum of Natural History — theaters that have hosted blockbusters like “The Dark Knight,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” the first “Hobbit” movie and the final “Harry Potter” film. Nor does it include the rooms at Smithsonian locations or other venues that host film festivals and assorted screenings.)

Of the commercial theaters named above, only West End Cinema opened in this decade (it started screening films in 2010). That opening followed on the heels of a few theaters closing up shop, such as the Phoenix Theatres at Union Station (shuttered in 2009), AMC Loews Dupont 5 (axed in 2008), and, a few years earlier, Visions Bar Noir (departed in 2004).

The Union Station theater, in particular, was geographically noteworthy because it actually existed outside of Northwest (though only barely, residing just east of North Capitol Street). These new venues are planned for other quadrants or for parts of Northwest lacking nearby theaters, where residents might have otherwise had to head across town to see a movie or wait for outdoor summer screenings.

There are theaters planned in Union Market, where an eight-screen Angelika is scheduled to open next year (that spot hosted drive-in screenings last summer); NoMa, with a 10-screen Landmark location at New York Avenue and N Street NE planned for fall 2016 (close enough to the Union Market theater that the Landmark Theatres CEO told Wiener he’s worried about “oversaturation”); and a 16-screen theater that will open two blocks away from Nationals Park.

And while the Landmark theater scheduled to open next year at 8th and V streets NW is in Northwest, its location (between the heart of the U Street corridor and Howard University’s campus, about a mile and a half north of the Gallery Place theater) is still removed from the current “L” circuit.

This boom isn’t the first of its type, as Jonathan O’Connell wrote last November. More than 50 new theaters opened in the District in the early 1900s, with another surge following in the late 1920s (as the massive success of “The Jazz Singer” helped the movie industry transition away from silent films). Once people began flocking to the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s, many theaters closed down.

As residents have flooded into the District – including young people with little interest in the suburbs and empty nesters ditching the ‘burbs for urban lifebusinesses have followed suit. These movie theaters are simply following the residents who have moved to NoMa and the Capitol Riverfront.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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Mark Berman · January 15