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The 5 Best Cinemas in New England

5.00 avg. rating (87% score) - 1 vote

Want a unique movie-going experience? We asked movie critic Garen Daly to choose the 5 best cinemas in New England, plus 5 honorable mentions. The task, he says, was “very difficult.”

Theaters are in Garen Daly’s blood: His grandparents were vaudeville performers. A former theater manager, he also produces the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival—in between hosting The Garen Daly Show on WNTN AM 1550 and serving as a movie critic for print, radio, and television. He says that some of America’s most respected cinemas are right here in New England, and choosing just five was “very difficult.”

Coolidge Corner Theatre

The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA.

Jonathan Kozowyk

The Coolidge has carved out a national reputation while sinking its roots into the local community. Originally the sanctuary of a church constructed in 1906, the building was renovated and leased as a movie theater in 1933. When demolition threatened in 1989, the townspeople rallied to preserve it. Today the Coolidge is considered one of the top 10 American art houses. Brookline, MA. 617-734-2500; coolidge.org

The building was designed by Alfred Easton Poor (famous for the Wright Brothers Monument in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina). The facade was patterned after a classic New England church, while the sides resemble a cow barn. Inside, a Rockwell Kent mural graces the theater’s 6,400-square-foot ceiling. With light rays from the projection booth representing the moon and the stage’s Japanese-style decorated curtain evoking the sun, the Cape Cinema’s auditorium is heavenly. Dennis, MA. 508-385-2503; capecinema.com

Built in 1834 as the Zion Episcopal Church, it was renamed “The Strand” in 1919 and became Newport’s center for film. In 1974, longtime owner Joe Jarvis renamed the theater “Jane Pickens” after a New York singing star and Newport socialite. Today it’s a modern movie theatre exhibiting the latest art films as well as live opera broadcasts from La Scala and other European venues. Newport, RI. 401-846-5252; janepickens.com

Red River, which opened in 2007, is the achievement of community leaders who struggled for nearly a decade to build it. This cinema shows not only movies from around the world but locally produced films as well; it also hosts SNOB, the “Somewhat North of Boston” Film Festival. A small art gallery and unique concessions (wine and beer, fresh sandwiches and pastries) round out the experience. Concord, NH. 603-224-4600; redrivertheatres.org

This beloved theater burned to the ground in 1994, rising again with community support. The highlight of the rebuilding process was the premiere of Nobody’s Fool, based on the novel of the same name by Waterville local Richard Russo and starring Paul Newman. “The Square” co-hosts the Maine International Film Festival, and its revival earned recognition from the Sundance Institute as one of the best art houses in the U.S. Waterville, ME. 207-873-6526; railroadsquarecinema.com

See Garen’s 5 Honorable Mentions for the Best Cinemas in New England.

Did we miss your favorite independent cinema or theater in New England? Let us know!

This article was first published in 2011.

  • I heartily endorse the inclusion of Coolidge Corner on the list: I made my first visit there on the weekend while passing through Boston and made my own double feature by buying tickets for Her followed by Monuments Men. The sight lines in the theaters are great, the projection top-notch and the staff kind and helpful. Lovely to see all of this wrapped up in a progressive non-profit package. I will be back.

  • I have great memories of the Dreamland Theater on Nantucket. The preservation has saved memories for many and will create many more for years to come.

  • Stay tuned B.C., a member of the Board of Directors has taken a great interest in the organ and is investigating the feasibility of undertaking a restoration project.

  • My vote is for Cinema Salem , Salem, Ma. Owner Paul Van Ness has done a great job with providing us with the most recent and popular films, all of them worth seeing, at reasonable prices. Additionally, there is an annual Film Festival of documentary films from around the world, a community grants program awarding $1000 monthly to a worthy non-profit. Lastly, they offer Mom and Baby show times and display local art work at the cozy Cinema Cafe. Of course, it was recently voted Best North Shore Movie Theatre. http://www.cinemasalem.com.

  • I was House Organist at the Jane Pickens for 10 years, where I played before the shows, accompanied silent movies, and was the opener for stage shows. Joe Jarvis kept the theatre in immaculate condition and Kathy Staab has improved it further. Unfortunately the organ is now in need of restoration.

  • What, no mention of Cinestudio on the Trinity College campus in Hartford?

    This nationally recognized cultural treasure has been operating for forty years in a gorgeous old auditorium complete with Austrian screen curtain and balcony. The ambience, meticulously maintained, is that of a 1930s movie house. The movies, shown in repertory rotation, represent the best in contemporary and classic film, with frequent showings of restorations. The screen is enormous and the sound excellent. The founders of Cinestudio, which is now a private nonprofit, still manage it. Every visit to this precious resource is a pilgrimage to cinema.

    The website is: http://www.cinestudio.org

    For more information about Cinestudio, open the below link to an article in the Hartford Courant.


  • One of the many gems located in Newport’s historic Washington Square, the Jane Pickens Theater is well deserving of Yankee Magazines acknowledgment. Also deserving of kudos
    is Kathy Staab, the current owner of The Jane Pickens. Kathy has worked tirelessly these past 8 years creating exciting and diverse programming that has truly engaged the community. Through Kathy’s efforts, it is not only this magnificent building but the entire community that has been enlivened by her efforts. Thank you Kathy!


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