San Francisco, CA

Support your friendly neighborhood San Francisco cinemas

Johanna Miyaki

San Francisco neighborhood movie theatres struggled far before the pandemic. The historic Clay Theatre in Pacific Heights closed on January 26, 2020 after 110 Years. Over the last 20 years or so, many of SF's historic arthouse cinemas have closed or been repurposed for another sort of use. The Alhambra on Polk Street and the Metro on Union were both transformed into gyms. The Bridge Theatre on Geary closed in 2013, and Alexandria Theater in the Richmond district closed its doors many years ago, then plans to transform it into a private pool and recreation complex got the green light in 2019. After being purchased out of foreclosure for $1.06 million in 2015 and later designated as an official San Francisco Landmark (No. 274), plans to redevelop the Historic El Rey Theater on Ocean Avenue into a new theater with commercial spaces have slowly moved forward. While the Castro, Roxie, Presidio, Balboa and a few others live on, for now, it is not without a monumental commitment by the theatre owners and staff, arts organizations and community members keeping them alive during the ongoing shutdowns mandated by San Francisco's "Shelter in Place" orders.

Take a break from Netflix and support a local theatre near you:

Roxie Theater 3117 16th Street San Francisco, CA, 94103

Located in San Francisco’s Mission district, the Roxie has been a champion of independent films and home to many film festivals, screening series and special events since 1909. The nonprofit venue went virtual with all of their programming during the SIP until Sundance invited the Roxie to host a Sundance Satellite Screen for the festival this year in San Francisco. For the first time, in the history of Sundance, they are offering virtual screenings and pop up screenings in partnership with arthouse theaters in 26 cities across the country. The San Francisco Sundance Satellite Screen will be presented at Fort Mason Flix Mason pop-up drive-in with 100% of ticket sales going to the Roxie. The screenings are SOLD OUT, however, there are virtual screenings available and additional tickets may become available after Monday, January 25, 2021. Go to the Roxie’s ticketing site and subscribe to the Roxie Theater’s eNewsletter for more information.

The Roxie is one of a few arthouse cinemas remaining in San Francisco in large part due to the incredible programming. In 2013, Program Director, Isabel Fondevila, came to the Roxie and saw an opportunity to bring Spanish Language films to the community in their Mission neighborhood-based movie theatre. RoxCine (pronounced “rock-seen-ay”) was launched in 2016, and Roxie’s year-round Spanish-language film program debuted its first film selection to a diverse audience that was favorably reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. OUTlook is Roxie’s year-round programming initiative to highlight LGBTQIA+ voices in cinema. Showing once again, the Roxie programming is intentional and aligned with their commitment to show films that reflect the full range of identities in San Francisco.

Fondevila has continued programming RoxCine virtually during the SIP and says they may continue to offer it virtually in addition to live screenings after the SIP is over. "The industry is changing", says Fondevila, "but the Roxie is here to stay". The Roxie’s Executive Director, Lex Sloane says, "We are so grateful for the support of the community". The Roxie will continue offering virtual programming and there are plans to do more pop ups at Fort Mason Flix until the SIP mandates lift and they can safely welcome people back to the Roxie.

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The Exterior of the Roxie Theatre. Photo Credit: Roxie Theatre

Balboa Theatre 3630 Balboa Street San Francisco, CA 94121

The historic Balboa Theatre opened in 1926 in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood, today it is owned and operated by Cinema SF. While they are not able to offer indoor movies during the SIP or show movies in their outdoor parklet at this time, they started hosting “POPCORN POPUPS” weekly in May 2020. Movie fans can purchase signature movie house merch designed by local artists and Balboa Theater staff and pick up some movie snacks with some local/regional craft beer to go and enjoy it at home while streaming a movie from Balboa’s “VIRTUAL CINEMA”. Adam Bergerson, from Cinema SF, says, "We get a lot of love from the neighborhood and the movie going community. Our popcorn is really delicious, the beer is curated (I spoke to Adam by phone while he was on his way to Santa Cruz to pick up this week's featured craft beer) and we are really proud of the merchandise. We hope people feel they are getting something of value for their support." (Side bar: I can confirm the deliciousness of the popcorn, see the bag of buttery goodness I polished off while writing this piece below). There are also special “STAY AT HOME VIEWING & LIVE CHAT” streaming events as well, possibly the only time you will want to chat during a movie.

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Friday January 22, 2021 - Fresh popcorn with real butter served in an eco-friendly paper bag from the Balboa Theatre's "POCORN POPUP. Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki

The Vogue Theatre 3290 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

Located in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood, the Vogue Theater is one of San Francisco’s oldest operating cinemas. Operated by Cinema SF today, it opened in 1912 as the Elite Theater and was briefly known as the Rex before becoming the Vogue in 1939. For more than 100-years, the Vogue has been showing foreign and independent films. In 2007 the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation purchased the theater and ensured its continued existence. In 2012 the SFNTF teamed up with CinemaSF, to continue brining an eclectic mix of first run and classic cinema to this beloved theater. They are also offering films via their Virtual Cinema during the SIP.

Castro Theatre 429 Castro Street San Francisco, CA, 94114

The theatre is temporarily closed until further notice, due to Covid-19. Owner, Steve Nasser, says, “Our reopening will depend on city health regulations, but as a large venue with 1400 seats we need to be able to accommodate well more than the 50-100 guests that were originally permitted under the temporary guidelines set forth in November of last year. We'd like to reopen as soon as it's viable to do so.”

Built in 1922, the Castro Theatre is considered a historic landmark within the city. The auditorium is covered with classic motif murals created using a rare wet plaster process called scrafitto. The stage and a huge 25'x44' screen are flagged with large organ grills for the working Wurlitzer pipe organ that opens every show. Two sweeping staircases adorned with gold mirrors and rare film posters in ornate gold frames take you to the mezzanine and balcony. Offering independent films as well as classics and major releases with the occasional “singalong” movie and popcorn served in a paper bag (said to be sourced from a farm in Sutter County) and buttered on request, it makes for a magical movie experience.

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The interior of the Castro Theatre. Photo Credit: Castro Theatre

Lee Neighborhood Theaters

These three local movie theatres have been family owned since 1964. They are closed due to Covid-19 SIP mandates at this time but offering virtual cinema programing from various streaming providers, visit their website for more information.

  • Presidio Theatre 2340 Chestnut St. San Francisco, CA 94123
  • 4-Star Theatre 2200 Clement St. San Francisco, CA 94121
  • Marina Theatre 2149 Chestnut St. San Francisco, CA 94123

*The following theatres are not independent cinema houses however they are worth a mention for their Independent film programming:

AMC Kabuki 8 in San Francisco’s Japantown is temporarily closed in accordance with local, state and federal guidelines. It will re-open when those guidelines allow. Indie Movie Fans will find a curated program with a broad range of themes, styles and genres through AMC Artisan Films. AMC Kabuki 8 is located at 1881 Post St, San Francisco, California 94115

Embarcadero Center Cinema is located in the Financial district, they have five screens showing foreign films and independent films with gourmet snacks and alcoholic beverages offered at the concessions counter. They are temporarily closed during the SIP.

Opera Plaza Cinema located near the Civic Center area of San Francisco, this theatre offers two large auditoriums screening the latest independent films. They are temporarily closed during the SIP.

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Covering news and telling stories from beautiful San Francisco and beyond if the story takes me there! More than Human Interest stories, I will share stories about Interesting Humans. Not just Breaking News but news that matters to you, to the local community and the world we share. Follow me here on News Break! ~ Johanna Miyaki

San Francisco, CA
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