ANNUAL MANUAL- Where to go to the movies
Going to the movies in Charlottesville is a retro experience, like going back in time to the early 1990s, to an era when there weren't stadium theaters all over the place.
Regal reports one in our future at Stonefield, now under construction at Hydraulic and U.S. 29. Over the mountain in Waynesboro, Zeus offers 12 spanking new screens.
The best source for finding out what's playing is the Hook's movie listings, the most complete and only print listing in town, and cvillemovies.com, a local institution now owned by the Hook– although regrettably, the latter doesn't include listings of our favorite out-of-town theater, the Visulite in Staunton.
Carmike 6 Theatres
1803 Seminole Trail
973-4294 (recording), 973-5972 (office)
In the early '90s, the Carmike 6 was our favorite multiplex. Time has not been kind to the theaters hidden behind Albemarle Square and Pier One.
Among regular moviegoers, the Carmike experience generates the worst reviews: long lines to see blockbuster movies with only one ticket seller working, lights that don't dim completely when the movie starts, creating a glare for those unfortunate to sit underneath, sprung chairs that make it necessary to find a new seat, and a management seemingly unsympathetic to the complaints of its customers.
And then there was the collapsed ceiling that drenched some moviegoers catching Avatar.
A theater employee informs us those issues have been corrected and that there's new management. And the digital projection looks crisp, crisp, crisp.
TIP: Buy tickets early.
Regal Downtown Mall 6
200 West Main Street
979-7669 (recording), 979-7857 (manager)
Its brick facade belies the fact that this multiplex made the Downtown Mall the happening place it is today. Before the Regal opened in 1996, there was no 2nd Street mall crossing, and no throngs of people flocking to the mall, which was pretty much a ghost town after 5.
Newest of the area theaters, the Regal Downtown also threatened Charlottesville's oldest art house, Vinegar Hill, when it started showing indie movies.
Parking can be problematic, but the theater does validate parking from the Water Street and Market Street garages. And sometimes sound bleeds in from adjacent theaters.
The bathrooms are wonderfully plentiful and clean. If only there were hand-drying options besides the blowers, it would get the Hook's top seal of approval.
Regal Crown Club members get discount movies and food.
TIP: Get there early during in the weeks before the Academy Awards because people will be lined up to catch the nominees.
Regal Seminole 4
2306 India Road
980-3333 (recording), 978-1607 (manager)
These are the blockbuster theaters: Regal behind Kmart is where we saw Titanic and Lord of the Rings, and where Harry Potter plays. Like the Carmike, the Regal Seminole is hidden off U.S. 29 and has seen few changes since the early '90s. Mostly, it has aged better and seems to be cleaner.
We have very few complaints about this theater, except for the paucity of bathrooms. This is the multiplex that draws the largest crowds and it has one women's bathroom stall for each theater.
If it ever becomes Charlottesville's first stadium-seated theaters, we trust that problem will be taken care of.
TIP: Skip the credits to try to beat the post-screening restroom line.
220 West Market Street
977-4911 (recording) * 977-8458 (manager)
In 2008, Vinegar Hill Theatre nearly bit the dust. Founded in 1975 by the once-married couple, Chief Gordon and Ann Porotti, who also opened the legendary Fellini's in its first incarnation, it has one screen– one small screen– and a small theater, and that made it increasingly harder to compete with the more robust Regal a block away. Despite its utilitarian accoutrements, the theater is the sentimental favorite of local diehard movie fans.
Then Adam Greenbaum, who owns the Visulite in Staunton, swooped in to save Vinegar Hill, and scored Slumdog Millionaire. The rest is short-term history.
Restrooms offer two stalls, but they're clean and when the crowds are small, you don't wait.
TIP: Popcorn with real butter.
Updated July 28, 2011