Top 10 Films that Visit the Movie Theatre

In this list I take a look at a selection of great films – including Taxi Driver, Last Action Hero and Donnie Darko – that feature prominent scenes inside the movie theater.

What happens when the movies visit the movies? This top 10 list takes a look at some of my favourite films and scenes where characters visit a movie theater. From the horrific to the funny, from the thought provoking to the awe-inspiring, the following ten films celebrate cinema in the best possible way: by watching a movie. Whether it is David enjoying a sex film alongside the decomposing body of his dead friend Jack in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London or Daniel Madigan being whisked away inside the movie in John McTiernan’s Last Action Hero, the theater is home to some of cinema’s most memorable moments.

10. Scream 2 (Craven, USA, 1998)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
The Scream series concocted by Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson and brought to life by horror film specialist Wes Craven wallowed in self-reference. It is little surprise then that we see the sequel to the horror film franchise that mocked slasher movie conventions begin in a theater where a cinematic retelling of the events of the first film is playing. Unsurprisingly, there is a prolonged and bloody death scene that culminates with the victim taking to the stage. With grandiose posturing they breathe their last breath in front of a crowded auditorium, all of whom believe the murder is a film studio prank to boost ratings.

9. An American Werewolf in London (Landis, USA, 1981)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
John Landis loves a little bit of self-referential humour in his films. In An American Werewolf in London he gets the phrase “See You Next Wednesday” (a mention of which can be found in most of his movies) into the story through a trashy adult film. He first introduces us to the comical porno through posters dotted around London Underground’s Tottenham Court Road station. Later, David, having realised he’s now a werewolf and killing people at full moon, meets the decomposing body of his friend Jack in an adult theater where See You Next Wednesday is playing.

8. Bachelor Party (Israel, USA, 1984)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
Tom Hanks and his friends get up to mischief in this eighties comedy classic about a bachelor party that spirals out of control. Eventually relocating to a huge multiplex, an audience of cinemagoers enjoying a 3D movie are witness to the action literally coming out of the screen as Hanks and his friends go to battle to win the heart of his love Debbie Thompson.

7. The Artist (Hazanavicius, French, 2011)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
For all its love of early cinema, The Artist’s grand opening sequence stands out as proud silent film star George Valentin admires his latest work as a packed auditorium watches on. After the credits roll he takes to the stage to wallow in the applause while performing dog Jack shows off his skills.

6. Donnie Darko (Kelly, USA, 2001)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
If we are thinking of memorable moments in movie theaters, few are as impressive as the scene in which Donnie Darko is joined by Frank, the monstrous rabbit, while enjoying a horror film marathon.

5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, USA, 1976)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
Social misfit Travis Bickle loves the cinema. So, when he gets the chance to date the beautiful Betsy in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver he takes her to the one social gathering point he’s sure will be a winner. However, Betsy isn’t as enamored with his choice of film – a pornographic feature – as he is, and Travis finds himself going home alone.

4. Last Action Hero (McTiernan, USA, 1993)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
Last Action Hero is director John McTiernan’s gift to every kid who grew up watching and loving movies. It is the film that says “YES – it can happen” to the dream of stepping through the theater screen or into the television set in order to join favourite characters in movieland. When Daniel Madigan gets a magic ticket from his aging friend and theater owner Nick, he finds himself magically transported into an action-adventure film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The self-referential humour is a quick-fire winner while Schwarzenegger has lots of fun parodying his own action-man persona.

3. The Purple Rose of Cairo (Allen, USA, 1985)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
Woody Allen is at his whimsical best, akin to the wonderful sense of romanticism and fantasy so successfully evoked in Midnight in Paris, with The Purple Rose of Cairo. In the film, Mia Farrow plays a bored waitress who escapes to the local theater to immerse herself in the movies. It is there, while watching for the umpteenth time a love story about adventurous archaeologist Tom Baxter (played by Jeff Daniels) that the fictional character notices her, breaking the fourth wall and entering the real world.
Related Top 10 Lists: Top 10 Woody Allen Films | Top 10 Underrated Woody Allen Films

2. Inglorious Basterds (Tarantino, USA, 2009)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater
Spielberg told of the Jewish struggle amid Nazi occupation in Poland through the heroic exploits of a profiteer-turned-saviour in Schindler’s List; Roman Polanski did likewise through the survival instincts of an ace pianist in the Krakow ghetto. Now Tarantino has a go, in the only way he knows how: by killing Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy inside a theater as a film from a Jewish girl mocks them.

1. Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, Italy, 1988)

Top 10 Films That Visit The Movie Theater

Few films celebrate cinema, and indeed the act of being in a theater watching a movie, as well, or with as much affection, as Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. In Italy it was released as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso which translates to New Paradise Cinema, evoking a wonderful image of the theater as a kind of haven. It certainly is for Sicilian projectionist Alfredo who runs a small independent cinema during the late 1950s where a young boy nicknamed Toto wants to spend his every waking moment. The film tells the story through flashback as a grown-up Toto (or Salvatore as he’s better known) returns to his home town after word reaches him that Alfredo has passed away. On his journey home the now successful filmmaker begins to reminisce about how his love of film was formed all those years ago in Alfredo’s Cinema Paradiso.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Rodney Reply

    Couldn’t agree more with your top 4, Dan. Nice list. I’d have had Cinema Paradiso up at #1 myself too….

  2. Pete Reply

    Good list but La Haine deserves a mention here too I reckon!

  3. Evan Crean Reply

    Donnie Darko and Inglourious Basterds are two of my all-time favorite films which I’m glad made this list. The one I’m most thrilled about is Last Action Hero. A lot of people crap on that movie, but I’ve always found it to be an underrated gem. How can you go wrong with a self-aware film written by Shane Black starring Arnold Schwarzenegger? Say what you want about Arnold’s acting chops; at least he has a sense of humor about himself.

  4. Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, Daniel and company:

    Excellent list and thumbnail sketches!

    A favorite of mine is the cinematic ode to low budget shock meister, William Castle in ‘Matinee’.

    John Goodman fares quite well as the idea man to fill seats for films that shouldn’t. Yet made the experience memorable for the audience with cheap tricks to made them jump at just the right times.

  5. Josh Reply

    Matinee with John Goodman is one I immediately thought of as well. Nice list, though. All good picks. I really like that smile on Jake’s face in the scene from Donnie Darko when they’re in there.

    Couple that I find memorable:
    I especially have to mention the theater scene in Gremlins 2. That was good stuff. Also, Fight Club.

  6. Mark Reply

    JFK – when Oswald gets caught at the theatre

    Earthquake – Victoria Principle is watching (I think) High Plains Drifter when the quake hits.

    12 Monkeys – Brucie and Madelaine watching Vertico and The Birds before going to the airport in their wigs and stuff

    Targets – OK, the climatic scene is in a drive in, but that’s a close second (which would also mean Thunderbolt and Lightfoot could get a mention)

    A Nightmare on Elm St (the Dream Warriors one)

    Public Enemy – Dillinger (Depp) tries to remain incognito in the theatre just before he is shot

    Ed Wood – Ed (Depp again) watching his masterpiece

  7. Lights Camera Reaction Reply

    I’m just gonna come right out with it – Scary Movie. I don’t care what anyone says, that film was hilarious haha.

    Great picks though – especially with Inglorious Basterds.

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