The gorgeous sign of the Birmingham 8 theatre on Old Woodward in downtown Birmingham. The backdrop of a cold January twilight makes it that much more majestic. It reminds me of the theatre in a scene from The Notebook, when Ryan Gosling's character finally takes the beautiful and illusive, Allie Hamiltion on a date. That Movie is mostly set in the 1940s, when going to the movies was truly a night out on the town. I had my first real date at this movie theatre so something about this sign just brings me nostalgia. The theatre inside may not be the best in the world, but the sign definitely takes home the cake
The Movies. A classic night out on the town with friends, family, or that friendly friend you don’t tell your mom about…. Hey no judgement here. But what do we need and expect from our movie-going experience these days? Where are we going to find the best deals? Where is popcorn the best? What theatre really enhances the cinematic experience? I went on the hunt so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
So in the Birmingham area, we have a couple main places to see the latest and greatest motion pictures: the Birmingham Palladium, Birmingham 8, and Southfield AMC. I'll start with the worst first friends.
Coming in dead last, no question whatsoever, is your favorite crime scene of a movie theatre, Southfield AMC. When I was little I went to the Southfield AMC often, and I remember quite differently the place I came back to visit. If you were to ask me about the Southfield AMC a month or two ago,I would have taken you on a nostalgic journey with sparkly, cement sidewalks, a grand entryway, a ceiling painted in constellations, and giant cutouts of iconic movie scenes.
Returning as the put together, young adult I am, these elements were significantly less magical. This place is way jankier than I remember. Most of us know looks can be deceiving, but I feel straight up lied too. At a quick glance there appears to be nothing wrong with the theater; on the contrary, it looks quite impressive in the dark, all lit up with its sparkly pavement outside. I encourage you to take a closer look, my friends. On either side of the theatre, you see two vacant spaces where restaurants used to be. It could just be me, but the empty spaces gives the whole place a ghost town kind of vibe.
I walked in on a Thursday afternoon to see a four o’clock showing of Frozen 2 with my mom. While grand the grand hall inside the theater may distract, take a glance to your right and your left, you’ll see boarded up areas where there used to be party rooms and an ice cream place, all gone with the wind. Continuing on in, I was greeted by the smell of stale popcorn and a long line for not only tickets, but also concessions. Walking across the now grimy inside, I was reminded of the mall in the most recent installments of the Netflix series Stranger Things. The tall ceilings, neon lights, and the feeling that there may be unsavory things going on behind closed doors. For a hot minute there was only one poor person working concessions, which made my famously impatient mother positively bonkers. We slowly made our way through the line. For two drinks and a medium popcorn we paid $21.17. Add the $11.98 for the two tickets, and this seems like a lot, but by the standard movie theatre prices, it is actually pretty tame. Filling up my drink with frozen coke, I noticed that the area around the fill up station was a sticky mess, littered with straw wrappers. We strolled in to find our seats and the ticket taker cheerfully told us to “Enjoy the Snow!” Who knows whether he was told to say that in particular; nonetheless, I still found it charming in the midst of the so far unpleasant experience I was having. We found our theatre, noting that the light up signs that used to indicate the specific movie being shown in that theatre appeared to have gone dark. We also passed by the concession stands that are closer to the theatres very appropriately adorned with fake candy and popcorn, yet they were dark and unused giving. This added to the melancholy vibe of the theater, as if it were slowly closing parts of itself, anticipating its own imminent death.
We got to our seats in a nearly empty theatre. Gray and worn, our seats weren’t prize winners with nowhere for feet or elbows to be comfortable for long periods of time. The floor was sticky, and the popcorn was less than satisfying while we watched preview after preview after preview. I had then discovered the “freshly popped” popcorn definitely tasted old and was under seasoned . When the movie finally started, I had to thank the heavens above. We must have seen six different previews, none of which were for movies even slightly intriguing. Sure, I was seeing a kids movie so the previews were geared more toward the little ones, but still… not enthused by a single one. My Icee was not awesome either, and I kept having to take my straw out to shake it and put it back in. Each time, the awful plastic on plastic squeaking noise pierced the air. I just cringed. Needless to say, I gave up on it, so the sticky, sugary mixture went to waste. I forgot most of the movie theatre itself when watching the movie, which I suppose is a good thing. It didn’t impede on the viewing experience, volume wasn't too loud, no projection mishaps, or that sort of thing. Frozen 2 itself was not bad, just not as good as the first one. While leaving the theater, I threw away my melted icee and remaining popcorn before making a quick trip to the reasonably clean and large bathrooms. My mom and I did not linger despite there being a fair amount of arcade games in the other space off the hall of theatres. On the way out, I saw large empty rooms, that, according to my mom, who remembers when the theatre opened in the 90s, used to be filled with shops and restaurants. The dormant spaces creeped me out. Overall, I would give the whole experience a 3/10, would not recommend. Only real upside was the price.
Coming in with the silver medal is the Birmingham 8, buried right in the heart of Birmingham. The Birmingham 8 theatre is pretty Iconic for the old timey light up sign and being super easy to sneak into. (Not that I’ve tried.) In the cold of January, I returned to the Birmingham 8 with my father to see Oscar contender, 1917. I really do appreciate walking up to the big, bright lights outside the theatre. I'm kinda a sucker for a retro sign. They no longer use the box office out front, which, I guess, I can understand because I know it’s cheaper to employ a machine, but I somewhat miss the personal touch. The empty window is just a sad reminder of simpler times. The lobby has a 1920s feel about it with the gold accent marks and dark blackcurtain lined walls. I could be totally off with that time frame of the interior decorating style, but I got a Great Gatsby vibe that's all. You have plenty of time to enjoy the aesthetic of the theatre while you’re waiting in line forever for popcorn while being crushed against the wall because there isn't much room for a line whatsoever. I panicked for a hot second when I got up to the front and saw that a former friend was working. While me and this person don’t have beef per se, it was still an awkward interaction. These are just the uncomfy moments you risk when you go to popular spots in birmingham.
This is the entry way of the Southfield AMC theatre on twelve mile road just past Telegraph. The ceiling illuminated and adorned with clouds and constellations is cool, but I don't really see how it connects to a movie theatre. Past the ticket counters there are giant cut outs of iconic movie symbols like Jurassic park and Indiana jones. Now there I see the connections to the movies. If you look to the sides you see the boarded up walls of restaurants and shops that once were. The tall ceilings and decor are loud and large, kinda like the 80s. Honestly the whole place reminded me of the mall in Stranger Things season 3. But if you look in the nooks and crannies, they are grimy and gross. The whole place could use an extensive lysol wipe down.
There are two floors in the theatre with a tiny little bar with an actual bartender on the second floor. I'm sure they lose money on that added hospitality because I've never seen anyone have a drink there and the tip jar is perpetually empty. My Dad and I filled up our drinks and added butter to our popcorn. That little station could have used a good clorox wipe down; I'm just throwing that out there. We found our seats which at least at first was in blissfully deserted theatre. I fiddled around with my fancy reclining chair, trying to find the optimal sitting position. I was tired but I was not going to let $13.50 go to waste. The theatre started to fill with obnoxious people. It could be that this bunch of movie goers were just particularly loud and obnoxious, but in a small theatre there is no where for sound to go. Most of Birmingham 8 theatres are quite small except for one all the way in the back of the building. I've seen a couple movies in the big theatre. There is a very old timey layout but it has the fancy old movie theatre curtains by the screen so that's cool. However, on this occasion I was stuck in a small theatre with loud people. During the previews eight people had to get up and walk in front of the screen, and others were squeaking and squawking. Once the movie came on they settled down and shut up for the most part. The movie itself was pretty good. I noted the stunning cinematography, and I was right because 1917 won the Oscar for it. It's the type of movie you are not mad that you watched by any means, but you don't need to watch it again. It was fine, not a standout, some pros some cons, a standard middle of the road experience.
And the metaphorical Oscar goes to….the only other theatre left: Emagine Palladium in Birmingham. I also grew up going to this movie theatre. I vividly remember standing in a long line to see the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part Uno wearing a wizard robe and carrying a wand. Even before the fancy update three ish years ago, it still was pretty nice then too. Now post update there are many amenities to enjoy other than, and not limited to, not having to take 94 escalators up to the outer atmosphere to find your theatre. Instead, you now walk right into a nice room and straight into the elevator, which isn't the best design ever, but I don't know, maybe it helps to build suspense. On this specific occasion, I was with the family to see the most recent Star Wars. We had bought our tickets ahead of time and went to a Monday matinee so it was fairly quiet and we had good seats which were assigned and were slightly more expensive. Our four tickets were about $30. After stepping off the elevator, we didn't have to wait in line at all to pay another $50 for not a ton of food. However expensive the popcorn and Sour Patch watermelon might be, they were quality. The Icee fill up station was nice and clean and equipped with new machines that have l 50 different kinds of pop. We were there early, so the theatre was empty when we found our seats which were quite prime. The theatre never got too full, but there also aren’t a million seats, which is a good thing. Less seats mean less people who can ruin my quiet, peaceful viewing experience of a loud action packed space movie. The seats themselves were very comfy and reclined with ease. Just be cautious to not fall asleep my friends; although dads sitting through painful kids movies might just go right ahead and catch some REM. That said, most dads can fall asleep anywhere. After the fun pre movie quiz that no one participates in and a little reminder from our favorite CEO of Emagine Entertainment, Paul Glace, to stay off our phones, the movie commenced without a hitch. Whatever my thoughts on the movie itself, the movie viewing experience was 10/10. The sound was the perfect volume the whole time, no crying babies, no phones going off, no obstruction of my view whatsoever. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe cheaper prices, but it is a movie theatre, and it is in Birmingham.
Bottom line: you have to think about what you value out of your personal movie going experiences. Cheap prices? Avoiding old friends? Good snacks? Reclining seats? Nap-ability? For me I’ll roll with the good snacks and reclining seats. I deserve it.