Photo Essay

Portland Is One of America's Great Moviegoing Towns

A look inside the independent cinemas that make the Rose City such a special place to catch a screening

By Conner Reed Photography by Michael Novak Published in the December 2022 issue of Portland Monthly

Portland might lack the cinematic legacy of LA or New York, and while production cred is growing, we’re still no Vancouver, BC in that department. For moviegoers, though, there’s no place like Stumptown. With an embarrassment of indie theaters, and ticket prices that remain low even as inflation soars, you’d be hard-pressed to find more wide-ranging programming presented in more eye-popping settings. Here’s a closer look at some of the glittering jewels in our celluloid crown.

Image: Michael Novak


Opened in: 1926 / Current owner: Hollywood Theatre nonprofit / address: 4122 NE Sandy Blvd

When the Hollywood first opened (and switched the name of its home neighborhood from Hollyrood to Hollywood along with it), it was a veritable movie palace: silent features were accompanied by a live organist, vaudeville acts performed in its enormous 1,500-seat auditorium, and it hosted all-ages radio shows. By the ’60s, it was Oregon’s only theater with Cinerama capabilities, and in the ’80s, it landed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, it’s a blend of new and old, with a façade that nods to its ’20s roots and three smaller auditoriums that show a mix of first-run and repertory titles.

Image: Michael Novak


Opened in: 1914 (renamed Cinemagic in 1991) / Current owner: Ryan Frake / Address: 2021 SE Hawthorne Blvd

This single-screener is the oldest operating movie house in the city, beating the Clinton by a year. Throughout its century-plus history, it’s sported eight names—the Palm, Hawthorne, Star Hawthorne, Zephyr, Plaza, Fine Arts, Columbia, and now Cinemagic. A 2021 makeover refurbished its marquee, spruced up the auditorium’s enormous gold curtain, and threw in a new, state-of-the-art sound system.

Image: Michael Novak


Opened in: 1923 / Current owners: Prescott Allen & Woody Wheeler / Address: 2735 E Burnside St

“The first time we lit up the sign during the pandemic was in September [2020], because we were doing a music video for the Drive-By Truckers. We lit the marquee up, and people in the neighborhood started walking by, asking if we were open. The first few months after we did reopen, every day somebody new would come in like, ‘Oh, I haven’t been to the movies in 15, 16, 17 months.’ It was great that they picked us to come back to the movies, and it was great that they came back to the movies in general. Portland’s a great moviegoing town.” —Prescott Allen


Built in: 1905 (opened as McMenamins in 1998) / Current owner: McMenamins / Address: 8203 N Ivanhoe St  

Before the building was a theater, it was an exhibition hall for the Lewis and Clark Exposition, Oregon’s 1905 entry in the World’s Fair phenomenon. After the rest of the expo’s buildings had been demolished, this one was transported by barge from Northwest Portland to its current location in St. Johns, where it became a church, then an American Legion venue, then a bar, and finally a single-screen theater, which McMenamins has spiffed up several times since it took ownership in the late ’90s.

Image: Michael Novak


Opened in: 1948 / Current owners: Heyward Stewart, Julie Stewart & Ty Dupuis / Address: 7818 SE Stark St

Like a lot of theaters in town, Montavilla’s Academy Theater opened strong and then fell into disrepair in the latter half of the 20th century. In 2006, though, its current owners embarked on a project to bring back its former glory: using historical photographs from the theater’s opening night, they restored its now-iconic art deco marquee and bewitchingly retro lobby.

Image: Michael Novak


Opened in: 1915 / Current owners: Aaron Colter, Susan Tomorrow, Tom Kishel, David Gluck, Morgan McDonald & Steven Williams  / Address: 2522 SE Clinton St

“Of all the movie theaters in town, there’s no space that’s quite so inclusive with the acts and events booked. At the Clinton, you’ll go one night to a movie, the next night will be a live band getting recorded, the night after that will be a drag show, the night after that will be a fully scripted play. There’s a special mix of events that you can find individually in this town, but not all in one collective space.” —Violet Hex, former projectionist 


Image: Michael Novak


Opened in: 1925 (renamed Cinema 21 from 21st Avenue Theatre in 1962) / Current owner: Tom Ranieri / Address: 616 NW 21st Ave

“I really like the space. I always have. You can’t include it in the same conversation as the places with 18 screens and bright lights and all that—here, it’s kind of like church. There are no pews, but it has seats, a center of attention. Being alone in the space, doing repairs, upgrading stuff, cleaning things that haven’t been cleaned in years, it’s kind of spiritual. Despite the fact that I’ve never had a plan to speak of, I’ve been pretty lucky to be able to last this long and to do what I’m doing. Plus, I still get excited about the movies we show.” —Tom Ranieri 

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