2022’s Best Cities for Movie Lovers

Friends having fun and laughing while eating popcorn in a movie theater.

We all know how great fresh, buttery popcorn can taste as the opening credits begin to roll, but where in the U.S. can you have a memorable cinematic experience?

Lawn Love ranked 2022’s Best Cities for Movie Lovers ahead of Global Movie Day on Feb. 12. 

We looked for cities with plenty of cinemas and screening events, affordable movie tickets, and excellent streaming potential.

We also looked behind the scenes, noting cities with high community interest in movies, filmmaking, and local film festivals. 

See how well your city indulges die-hard film fanatics in our ranking below. Then, use our in-depth analysis to help plan your next big- (or small-) screen adventure.

In this article

  1. City rankings
  2. Results in depth
  3. Expert take
  4. Methodology
  5. Final thoughts: Take an off-screen adventure

City rankings

See how each city fared in our ranking:

Infographic showing the best and worst cities for movie lovers, a ranking based on movie theater access, ticket price, film festivals, and more
Note: Although we ranked 193 cities, the lowest-ranking position for some metrics above may not be 193 due to a significant number of ties.

Results in depth

And the Oscar goes to …

The Empire State city of New York (No. 1) crowns our ranking of America’s film empires. This is no surprise considering The Big Apple is the birthplace (and often muse) of big-name filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Sofia Coppola, and Spike Lee, to name a few.

Countless films take place here. In fact, NYC — followed by Los Angeles — has the most filming locations and landmarks among the cities in our ranking. Central Park is the most famous set location in the world, with more than 500 films and television episodes taking place there. 

While New York might not have the most affordable night out to the movies, New Yorkers have plenty of theaters from which to choose. NYC also has the most film groups and film festivals out of all our cities, giving filmmakers and film buffs the best opportunities to connect. 

Local tip: The Museum of the Moving Image has been telling the story of filmmaking and digital media since 1988. At MOMI, you can tour a collection of more than 130,000 artifacts, catch a lecture, or even attend a movie screening. 

Starstruck city

Los Angeles (No. 3) is a paramount power in the film world, home to Hollywood and many A-list stars and artists, so it’s hardly a shock that LA and its suburbs dominated our top 10. 

LA soared to the summit because of its large film community, falling just behind New York in film societies, festivals, and landmarks. The city itself has limited access to affordable, high-quality theaters, unlike its surrounding suburbs. 

Outlying communities like Torrance (No. 4), Ontario (No. 5), and Riverside (No. 6) make up for LA’s lack of Access. And with the city’s traffic, it’s easier (and cheaper) to stream movies from home. The LA metro has more space for new theaters, is easier to navigate, and is still populated with plenty of filmmakers and cinephiles. 

Local tip: Home to Hollywood, you can find plenty of iconic film spots in the City of Angels. Tour renowned film studios like Warner Bros., and then journey around the city to find the sites of some of your favorite flicks. Keep your eyes peeled — you never know when you might run into your favorite actor in LA. 

Keeping it reel in the Northwest

Big Tech has yet to displace the arts in San Francisco, our silver (screen) medalist, where the city’s eclectic architecture and beautiful landscape prove to be an inspirational backdrop for films like “Vertigo” (1958), “Dirty Harry” (1971), and “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006).

The Golden City also has a thriving film community, with plenty of festivals to attend and groups to join with fellow filmmakers and movie lovers. Good thing San Fran has the most movie theaters (and independent theaters) per square mile, making it easy to find seats for the latest feature. 

San Fran’s northern neighbor, Portland, Oregon (No. 8), fared well due to its flourishing film community and theater access. You can see Portland’s distinctive setting in the recent, award-winning indie drama “Pig” (2021).

Local tip: Roxie Theater is one of the world’s oldest operating movie houses and has been entertaining San Franciscans since 1912. 

In Portland, Laurelhurst Theater showcases contemporary and classic films, with an affordable menu catering to IPA-loving locals. 

Emerging artists

The film industry has been expanding into other cities over the years, notably Minneapolis (No. 14), Austin (No. 17), and Atlanta (No. 22). This is due to regional film incentives, access to a greater variety of locations, and more affordable lifestyles than in New York and LA.

Both Minneapolis and Austin scored well, thanks to modest ticket prices. Austin also has a big film community and could move up further in our ranking with more screening events and better cinema customer ratings. 

Atlanta’s film community is similarly booming, but the city was brought down in the ranking, largely due to a lack of outdoor movie-friendliness and broadband coverage. 

Local tip: In Atlanta, explore sites from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then follow your day with a drink at Little Trouble, a “Blade Runner”-themed bar. 

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Violet Crown Cinemas were both founded in Bat City, and in Austin you can scout out locations for cult classics like “Dazed and Confused” (1993) and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974). The 2022 SXSW Film Festival is scheduled for the end of March. 

Box-office flops

Small Ohio cities Toledo (No. 193) and Dayton (No. 192) fell to the bottom of our ranking, missing the mark in every category. Desert cities Fresno, California (No. 191), and Laredo, Texas (No. 190), follow closely behind. All of these cities have fewer theaters and less affordable ticket prices. 

While Dayton lacks theater access, though, you can have a nice movie night at home, since the city has great broadband coverage (tied for No. 1 in this metric). Cinephiles in the other bottom-ranking cities might want to hold on to their DVD players to avoid bothersome buffering.

Pro tip: You don’t have to spend a ton of money to catch the latest movies — many public libraries carry recent releases on DVD, which you can access with your library card. Might as well check out a book while you’re there, too.

Expert take

The pandemic hit the film industry pretty hard, with postponed film releases and drastically lower ticket sales at theaters across the country. How are theaters recovering, and what movies should we be looking forward to this year, anyway? We turned to some experts to find out: 

  1. What is one of the best ways to discover new movies?
  2. How can movie lovers support local filmmakers in their city? Why should they?
  3. What’s the biggest advantage to watching a movie at an independent movie theater versus a national chain like AMC or Cinemark and vice versa?
  4. Why are concessions so pricey? What are your best three tips for treating yourself at the movies without spending a fortune?
  5. Are movie subscription plans or deals worth it? Why or why not?
  6. What is one of the most anticipated movies to come out this year?
  7. How are movie theaters recovering from the pandemic? What do you predict ticket sales will look like in the coming year?
David Pierson, Ph.D.
Chair and Professor of Media Studies, Department of Communication and Media Studies
Nita Blum
Clinical Assistant Professor of Production, Sidney Poitier New American Film School
David Pierson, Ph.D.
Chair and Professor of Media Studies, Department of Communication and Media Studies
University of Southern Maine

What is one of the best ways to discover new movies?

I read the New York Times, which does a great job of listing and reviewing new feature films.

I also rely on meta-critic aggregate websites like Rotten Tomatoes, which if you focus on the top critics and their reviews, does a good job of pointing to new movies being released to theaters.

I’m also a follower of certain notable film directors like Guillermo de Torre and Jane Campion who both have produced two excellent films this year – Nightmare Alley and the Power of the Dog.

How can movie lovers support local filmmakers in their city? Why should they?

In my city of Portland, Maine, movie lovers are lucky because we have a thriving filmmaking community. Our local filmmakers include everyone from college student filmmakers to seasoned professional dramatic and documentary filmmakers.

Movie lovers can support local filmmakers by buying tickets to film showings at local theaters and on streaming platforms like Vimeo, and by contributing through crowdfunding sources like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Supporting local filmmakers enriches our local film scene here in Portland and Northern New England.

What’s the biggest advantage to watching a movie at an independent movie theater versus a national chain like AMC or Cinemark and vice versa?

Independent film chains tend to have more flexibility in showing films from local and regional filmmakers and in showing films from foreign and independent producers, which tend to be more personal and expressive film stories and not part of an established Hollywood film franchise.

Why are concessions so pricey? What are your best three tips for treating yourself at the movies without spending a fortune?

Concessions are pricey because they are one of the few ways in which theaters can make money in the film exhibition business.

One tip to treat yourself is to make plans to dine either before or after attending a film and avoid spending money on concessions.

Bottled water over soft drinks is usually a good bargain at film theaters.

Are movie subscription plans or deals worth it? Why or why not?

If you plan on going to the movies at least once a week, then they can be an economical way to be a steady moviegoer. If not, then you might not want to purchase a movie subscription.

Please keep in mind that many online streaming movie platforms, like Netflix, Amazon, and HBO Max, also release films on both their platforms and to the movie theaters.

What is one of the most anticipated movies to come out this year?

For 2022, I would say The Batman (with Robert Pattison, Paul Dano and Colin Farrell), Michael Bay’s Ambulance (with Jake Gyllenhaal), James Cameron’s Avatar 2, and Robert Egger’s The Northman.

How are movie theaters recovering from the pandemic? What do you predict ticket sales will look like in the coming year?

I think ticket sales will gradually improve this year, but filmgoers are still cautious about going to the theaters and there may be some confusion over the multiple release patterns by major film streaming platforms like Amazon, HBO Max, and Netflix.

Nita Blum
Clinical Assistant Professor of Production, Sidney Poitier New American Film School
Arizona State University

What is one of the best ways to discover new movies?

Reading blogs written by publications such as the New York Times “What to watch” or joining curated newsletters produced by indie arthouse streaming services such as MUBI are ways to discover movies outside of the normal mass marketed Hollywood films.

Going to your local library is also a place you can discover old gems you might have missed otherwise.

Seek out your local arthouse theaters, they still exist in cities and need your support. They constantly play under the radar cinema and local filmmakers; you will be happy you found them!

Finally, checking out your local film festival will provide access to films you may miss in the large theater chains and streaming services.

How can movie lovers support local filmmakers in their city? Why should they?

You can check websites like Seed & Spark for local film fundraising campaigns. Most crowdfunding campaigns have video content where you can learn more about the filmmaker and film and decide if you want to support their film by contributing funds.

As a teacher at ASU’s Sidney Poitier New American Film school I see our students raise money on these sites to fund their senior film projects. With the support of the public these filmmakers go on to make films that are festival worthy.

Without your support the indie film community will wither. The community needs support now more than ever with a smaller chance of success to make their films with studio or “Hollywood” support. We risk the chance of losing diverse and authentic storytelling that doesn’t fit the homogenized typical Hollywood circuit.

What’s the biggest advantage to watching a movie at an independent movie theater versus a national chain like AMC or Cinemark and vice versa?

Independent chains tend to be locally owned and invested in the success and growth of their community. Independent chains are easier to access and communicate with those in charge and will more than likely be willing to work with the filmmaker on fees and percentages that are shared.

Sometimes they may even wave their cut all together in hopes of supporting the local filmmaker in their film’s success.

Why are concessions so pricey? What are your best three tips for treating yourself at the movies without spending a fortune?

As an avid health food eater, I am not tempted by all the concessions you must navigate by when at the movies. Not to say I do not enjoy popcorn occasionally.

Most big chains have reward memberships now that get you free popcorn and all that jazz to compete with the stay-at-home experience. If you are going to the movies a lot I would recommend one of those plans. Or perhaps have a big dinner prior and forgo it all together, hah.

Are movie subscription plans or deals worth it? Why or why not?

As mentioned above you save on the popcorn and perhaps you are an avid supporter of big Hollywood popcorn flicks, then the subscription pays off for you.

If you prefer smaller independent films, you may not see many in the theaters these days and might spend that money for a subscription to Mubi or Criterion collection streaming sites instead.

What is one of the most anticipated movies to come out this year?

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, while controversial in many ways, had a lot of the fundamental filmmaking mastery that we have grown to relish from the filmmaker.

How are movie theaters recovering from the pandemic? What do you predict ticket sales will look like in the coming year?

People in general are tired of the pandemic, they want it to be over. Many are ready for normalcy and if they practice safety precautions set in place by the theaters they feel safe to get back to their old movie watching routines.

However, the pandemic has changed our movie watching habits, with many studios releasing films online and in theaters, I believe this is a trend that isn’t going away.

People are enjoying the luxury of watching films from the comfort of their homes. I believe the trend toward independent films and certain genres such as drama and comedy released at home while big action films being more popular to watch in theaters will eventually lead to a permanent fixture in where and how we view films.

Methodology

We ranked 193 of the biggest U.S. cities from best to worst (1-193) based on their overall scores (out of 100 points), averaged across the weighted metrics listed below. 

Access

  • Movie Theaters per Square Mile
    • Weight: 3
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Independent Movie Theaters per Square Mile
    • Weight: 2
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Movie Theater Screens per 100,000 Residents
    • Weight: 2
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Redbox Locations per Square Mile
    • Weight: 1
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Outdoor Movie-Friendliness
    • Weight: 2
    • Smallest Value = Best
  • Number of Internet Service Providers
    • Weight: 1
    • Biggest Value = Best

Quality

  • Average Consumer Rating for Movie Theaters
    • Weight: 2
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Fiber Internet Availability
    • Weight: 1
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Broadband Internet Coverage
    • Weight: 1
    • Biggest Value = Best

Affordability

  • Average Movie Ticket Price as a Share of Weekly Median Household Income
    • Weight: 2
    • Smallest Value = Best

Community

  • Number of Film Societies and Groups
    • Weight: 2
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Number of FIlm Events and Festivals
    • Weight: 3
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Number of Screening Events
    • Weight: 2
    • Biggest Value = Best
  • Number of Filming Locations and Landmarks
    • Weight: 2
    • Biggest Value = Best

Sources

AreaVibes, Art House Convergence, BroadbandNow, Cinema Treasures, Eventbrite, Everfest, Lawn Love, Meetup, MovieMaps, Redbox, and Yelp

Final thoughts: Take an off-screen adventure

While some of us like cozying up on the couch to watch Netflix at home, others prefer the theater for soda, snacks, and surround sound. Either way, movies have the power to bring us into new dimensions, to connect with characters and stories from around the world.

If you find yourself in one of the following cities, why not take a brief step away from the fictional world to appreciate some of America’s great cinematic spaces and landmarks?

  • Bend, Oregon: While it might feel like the days of DVD rentals are over, the last brick-and-mortar Blockbuster keeps the nostalgia alive in Oregon. The only physical Blockbuster location is doing well, thanks to loyal movie renters and cinephiles. If you can’t make your way out West, you can learn about The Last Blockbuster by watching (ironically) its Netflix documentary from the comfort of your home. 
  • Park City, Utah: Every January, more than 100,000 filmmakers and film buffs gather together for one of the most anticipated film festivals in the world, Sundance. Sundance is the largest independent film festival in the U.S., and many movies that premiere at the festival go on to become award-winning favorites
  • Culpeper, Virginia: Who would guess that this sleepy little town in Virginia is home to more than 1.1 million film, TV, and other video recordings? Culpeper is the address of The Library of Congress’ Audio Visual Conservation program, which packs its massive collection into 90 miles of storage shelving. They also host events and screenings throughout the year. 

Are you dreaming of “Greener Grass,” but prefer to spend your weekend watching movies instead of doing yard work? Reach out to a Lawn Love pro, and you’ll have a “Field of Dreams” in no time.

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a recent graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.