Always in Motion: New York’s Greatest Independent and Art House Movie Theaters

A guide to enhancing your celluloid vocabulary

July 9, 2024 6:59 am
Located on Houston Street in Greenwich Village, Film Forum is a cinema lover's dream
Located on Houston Street in Greenwich Village, Film Forum is a cinema lover's dream
Peter Aaron

Summer is in full swing, and one of the best ways to escape the sizzling concrete is to lose yourself in a movie theater. New York is a cinema lover’s paradise, not just for its historical roots in filmmaking but its many independent and art house movie theaters. When you want to experience the art of filmmaking in its finest narrative, experimental or documentary forms, in theaters sans Marvel trailers and screaming children, the city is bursting with options. Take a look at this guide to some of New York’s finest and fill your night with classic, obscure and fresh voices on film.

Anthology screens avant-garde and experimental works as well as independent and art films from across cinema history
Anthology screens avant-garde and experimental works as well as independent and art films from the length of cinema’s history
Anthology Film Archives

Anthology Film Archives

One of New York’s great cinematic treasures, Anthology Film Archives was opened in 1970 by foundational experimental filmmakers Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, Peter Kubelka, Stan Brakhage and cinema historian P. Adams Sitney. The films at Anthology live deliciously outside of the mainstream, featuring avant-garde and experimental works as well as independent and art films from the length of cinema’s history. If you’re looking for something to stimulate your ideas about the breadth, depth and nature of cinema, this is the place to go.

32 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

Nitehawk Cinema

Sure, many of these theaters came first, but Nitehawk perfected the moviegoing experience. Not only will you find new releases of of certain blockbusters like Dune, but Nitehawk shows the best fresh indie films and old cult classics. The food and cocktails here are excellent, and people come from across the city just to have the signature popcorn, which is dressed with truffle butter and citric salt. Special events — like Saturday morning Spoons, Toons & Booze and Film Feasts, where multi-course meals inspired by the movie are served during the show — are not to be missed, so sign up for the mailing list to stay up-to-date with everything Nitehawk has to offer.

136 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn and 188 Prospect Park W, Brooklyn

Film Forum is known for its dedication to cinema classics as well as new art and independent films
Film Forum is known for its dedication to cinema classics as well as new art and independent films
Peter Aaron

Film Forum

Film Forum, also opened in 1970, is easily one of my favorite movie theaters in all of New York. Known for its dedication to cinema classics as well as new art and independent films, it’s a cinema lover’s dream. In the past, I’ve seen a range of films from John Waters’s 1980 film Polyester (complete with the original Odorama scratch-n-sniff card) to Jean Renoir’s 1939 film The Rules of the Game to a documentary about photographer Garry Winogrand. It’s also known for its banana bread at the concession stand, once lauded by famed philosopher Jacques Derrida

209 W Houston St, New York, NY 10014

Set within Manhattan's Chinatown, Firehouse is the brainchild of the iconic DCTV
Set within Manhattan’s Chinatown, Firehouse is the brainchild of the iconic DCTV
Nagamitsu Endo


Located at 87 Lafayette Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Firehouse is the site of an historic former firehouse built in 1895 for Engine Company 31. Now it runs some of the best documentaries in the world. Firehouse is the brainchild of DCTV, “one of the leading documentary production and film education centers in the country,” originally established in 1972. The cinema is quite new, having opened in September 2022. Come here for nonfiction films of all stripes, from classic narratives to personal essays to experimental forms, with subjects as diverse as politics and literature, war and socioeconomics, espionage and art. 

87 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10013

Maysles Documentary Center

An icon of documentary filmmaking with his brother David, Albert Maysles founded Harlem’s Maysles Documentary Center in 2005 to provide the neighborhood with “consistent access to documentary films and conversation with filmmakers, the act of filmmaking and engaging with films to make a difference” as well as “to amplify and expand under-represented artists and narratives.” The nonprofit cinema plays host to both new and classic documentaries made by emerging and established artists, respectively. It’s an exciting way to flip the script on a typical night out at the movies.

343 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10027

Metrograph is among New York's sleekest art houses, and boasts a curated screening lineup to match it's chic
Metrograph is among New York’s sleekest art houses, and boasts a curated screening lineup to match its chic
Jeremy Liebman


One of the city’s sleekest art houses, Metrograph features intelligently curated screenings. A Tatsuya Fuji retrospective featuring an appearance from the actor? Check. Obscure yet beloved 1998 teen film All I Wanna Do featuring Q&A with director Sarah Kernochan? Check. An Agnes Varda series? Check. There’s also the occasional used film book sale or poster sale, and the theater has its own commissary upstairs if you’re interested in dinner or cocktails. For an expanded cinematic experience, you can also check out their journal of film writing and interviews and their robust streaming platform for members.

7 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002

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Quad Cinema

Quad Cinema originally opened in 1972 as the city’s first theater with multiple screens. With a stunning renovation in 2017, it reopened as a stylish midcentury modern-style theater that looks like it stepped right out of The Jetsons (it’s also now owned by Landmark Theatres). Choose one of its four (get it? quad?) theaters for”a little bit of everything: high and low, foreign and domestic, fiction and documentary, arthouse and grindhouse.”. So, yes, you can see Kevin Costner’s new Horizon saga, a documentary about Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, and that new French film you heard about (Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person is on my list, personally). Stop by their bar next door for a drink before the doors open (usually 30 minutes before screening time).

34 W 13th St, New York, NY 10011

Spectacle is collectively-run, volunteer-operated theatre in Brooklyn focused on "overlooked works" and "offbeat gems"
Spectacle is a collectively-run, volunteer-operated theater in Brooklyn focused on “overlooked works” and “offbeat gems”


The spirit of Anthology Film Archives lives on at Spectacle, a collectively-run and volunteer-operated theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Their calendar includes “overlooked works, offbeat gems, contemporary art, radical polemics, live performance and more,” as the cinema writes. Expect films you’ve likely never heard of from across the globe, and for only $5, or $10 for special events. 1966 monster musical Rat Pfink a Boo Boo? Yes. 1993 Hong Kong action film The Black Panther Warriors? Also yes. The high-camp Showgirls 2? Again, yes. No matter what day you step into the space (they’re open all week), you’ll have an experience to remember.

124 S 3rd St, Brooklyn, NY 11249

Angelika New York and Village East by Angelika

Long the holy grail of independent film, the Angelika first opened on Houston Street in 1989. While it’s now a chain with several locations around the country, the flagship Houston Street site remains a venue for the brightest lights in independent, foreign, art and documentary cinema. One of its sister theaters is Village East, over on 2nd Avenue, which showcases popular releases alongside its foreign and independent offerings. It’s also known for its ongoing series, some of which include this year’s Village East in 35mm, Musical Mondays, Sci-Fi Summer starring drag queen Hedda Lettuce, a Studio Ghibli Summer Festival and Classics in Black and White.

18 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012 and 181-189 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

Film at Lincoln Center

Founded in 1969, Film at Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side is to cinema as its neighboring theaters at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts are to the stage. Presenting “premier film festivals, retrospectives, new releases and restorations year-round,” Film at Lincoln Center’s theaters are elegant sites to take in the finest from new and established filmmakers across genres. Plus, Film at Lincoln Center is also home to Film Comment, one of the longest-running cinema publications in the country, so you know their screens will be filled with invigorating work. 

70 Lincoln Center Plaza #4, New York, NY 10023

IFC Center

Once the Waverly Theatre, the West Village’s IFC Center has been a home for thoughtful filmmaking ever since it opened in the 1960s — it became the IFC Center in 2005 with the release of Miranda July’s You and Me and Everyone We Know. The IFC Center is part of the AMC Networks company, and its dedication to the art of cinema hasn’t waned. Here, you’re as likely to take in a Tarkovsky as a festival of cat videos, a De Palma as the new British work Sebastian by director Mikko Makela. In the lobby, they also have fun movie buff merch like shirts from Cinemetal and totes from artist Nathan Gelgud, so keep your eyes peeled.

323 6th Ave, New York, NY 10014

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