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. Over the mountain in Waynesboro, the Zeus offers 12 spanking new, stadium-seating screens.
To find out what's playing, the Hook has the only print listings in town. Online, check out cvillemovies.com, a local institution now owned by the Hook– although regrettably, it 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, but 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, some 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.
A tip: Buy tickets early.
Regal Downtown Mall 6
200 West Main Street
979-7669 (recording), 979-7857 (manager)
Its understated brick facade belies the fact that this multiplex injected lots of life into the Downtown Mall and helped make it the happening place it is today. Before the Regal opened in 1996, there was no 2nd Street crossing on the Downtown Mall, and no throngs of people flocking to the mall, which was pretty much a ghost town after 5pm.
Newest of the area theaters, the Regal Downtown also threatened Charlottesville's oldest art house, Vinegar Hill, when it began showing indie movies.
Parking can be problematic, but the theater does validate parking from the Water Street and Market Street garages. Another problem is that sound sometimes bleeds 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.
A 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)
This is where the blockbusters come, to this white box of a theater behind Kmart. This is where we saw Titanic, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. And that's where Katy Perry: Part of Me opened. Like the Carmike, the Seminole is hidden off U.S. 29 and has seen few changes since the early '90s. That's probably understandable as the theater is doomed once the Regal's new one opens at Stonefield. Also, Hillsdale Drive Extended is slated to go through where the building now stands.
We have very few complaints about this theater, except for the paucity of bathrooms. This is the multiplex that draws the largest crowds, and yet it has one women's bathroom stall for each theater. We trust that problem will be taken care of at the new Regal at Stonefield.
A 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 just one screen– and it's a small one– and a small theater. Such factors have 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.
A couple of years ago, 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.
A tip: Get the popcorn since it has real butter.
Later this year Regal Entertainment plans to open its 14-screen theater on Hydraulic Road, a powerful symbol of cinematic enthusiasm in a town that hasn't seen a new movie place since the 1996 opening of the downtown Regal six-screener. The new facility– preliminarily valued at $11 million on its building permit– will offer digital projection and high-backed rocking stadium seating in every cinema.