Area cinephiles have long known that the Triangle, with its miscellany of multiplexes, art house theaters, universities, and cultural centers, is a veritable fount for moviegoers. It’s easy enough to spend a few hours in a darkened big box cinema. But there are unique movie-theater choices reaching every point of the Triangle, so there’s no reason to opt for the same old same old.

There new game in town is The Alamo Drafthouse. The venerable, nationally spread but indie-spirited chain of restaurant-cinemas from Austin, Texas, is famed on the one hand for strict cinema etiquette—seriously, no cell phones—and wild participatory screenings of classic films on the other. You can catch a new release, sure, but these movie parties are the real draw. 

At the other end of the newness scale, Raleigh also boasts the Rialto Theatre, which has been entertaining audiences in Five Points since 1942. The five-hundred-plus auditorium offers foreign and indie films, and beer and wine at the concession counter. Owner Bill Peebles also runs Mission Valley Cinema, the hip, five-screen multiplex that’s been serving N.C. State since 1973.

Raleighwood Cinema Grill, Raleigh’s original dine-in theater, is still going strong. Although the Raleigh Grande is owned by Cinemark, it’s the sole source of weekly Indian features. While many multiplexes offer IMAX-lite, the IMAX Theatre at Marbles is the area’s only true IMAX experience and the only movie theater in DTR. And among the most fulfilling film outings are the year-round film series curated by the N.C. Museum of Art, including summer movies on the lawn and classics the rest of the calendar.

In downtown Cary, The Cary Theater operated as a motion picture house from 1941–60. In February 2014, it reopened as an art house cinema and cultural arts center. While dine-and-reclines have become ubiquitous, the CinéBistro is a far cut above in terms of both quality and cost.

Anchored by the venerable Fletcher Hall, the Carolina Theatre is a Durham landmark. Weekly film offerings are shown in the adjoining Cinemas One and Two, with Fletcher primarily used for concerts. The entire facility hosts film festivals year-round, including Full Frame and NC Gay + Lesbian Film Festival.

In Chapel Hill, the Varsity Theatre, with its distinctive marquee and idiosyncratic interior, has been a Franklin Street institution since 1927. Today you can catch recent releases for a few bucks, plus improv on Saturday nights. Tucked away in a corner of Timberlyne Shopping Center and pulled back from the brink of closing by a group of dedicated fans this year, the Chelsea Theater houses bandbox-sized auditoriums and some of the finest art house cinema in the area. In University Place, the sleek Silverspot Cinema marries casual dining and a full bar with a mixed offering of traditional Hollywood fare and independent/foreign films. The locally owned Lumina Theater is a modestly sized neighborhood theater in Southern Village that advertises wine, beer on tap, and a pleasant movie experience.

Finally, if you’re in the mood for a short drive, there are a couple of offbeat theaters to check out. The Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre is actually in Henderson, an hour north of Raleigh, and it’s one of only a few drive-in movie theaters remaining in North Carolina. A half-hour west of Durham is the Graham Cinema, a vintage movie house dating back to 1928. Still sporting an art deco facade, it’s home to second-run films and the famous Tim Bob’s joke line—call 336-226-1488 and listen until the end of the message.