Ah, the curt, chilly crispness of conditioned air! Formerly a frivolous luxury for only the most wasteful, well-heeled, and environment-destroying Portlanders, air conditioning has slowly become a fact of life for the rest of us. Summer after summer, it’s becoming increasingly evident that this city gets hot now. The reason, of course, is climate change, and since we didn’t elect God, we should probably blame the bribe-taking, fossil-fuel-guzzling conservatives who are inexplicably holding very important federal government jobs.
Getting mad about all of that won’t cool you down, though. You know what will? Movies! If you don’t have AC in your home, the next best thing is a trip to the ol’ cinema, where you can sit inside a building full of refrigerated air! (And if you’re about to say, “But air conditioning contributes to climate change,” you deserve to be shushed like the oblivious jackass FaceTime-ing during A Quiet Place.)
The first movie theater with air conditioning was Times Square’s Rivoli Theater, which unveiled its “cool comfort” feature for its grand opening on Memorial Day in 1925. Nowadays air conditioning is pretty standard in almost every theater, although tickets are substantially more expensive than they were in 1925. For instance, a 3D IMAX screening at Regal’s Lloyd Cinemas costs $19.95, which is an unreasonable amount of money to pay to watch a digital file; fortunately, cheaper theater options abound in Portland. (There’s also the controversial choice of MoviePass, whose intermittently available subscription service of one movie ticket per day for $9.99 a month has earned the industry’s ire but is very consumer-friendly—three months of MoviePass could be a cheaper way of beating the summer heat than, say, a $200 AC unit.)
The big-name wide releases hit all the chain screens at once, and Portland’s corporate theaters are basically interchangeable, with some exceptions. Cinemark’s Century 16 Eastport Plaza (4040 SE 82nd) earns distinction for having reclining seats and cheaply discounted tickets on Tuesdays ($5.75). And our best bet for seeing the newest Disney blockbuster-du-jour—including Disney’s latest offerings from their Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar brands—is McMenamins’ Bagdad Theater Pub (3702 SE Hawthorne), a gorgeously well-preserved movie palace from 1927 and a thrilling place to sit for two hours.
The Hollywood Theatre (4122 NE Sandy) is almost as historically accurate—it dates from 1926 and boasts a breathtaking exterior façade, although its balcony has been chopped up into two additional screens. Fortunately, the nonprofit has some of the best programming in town, including well-chosen mainstream releases, genre and grindhouse flicks, repertory classics, expertly curated mini-festivals, and locally produced movies. Plus, they sell craft beer for $4, which is pretty unbelievable in 2018.
Longtime cheapie standby Laurelhurst Theater (2735 E Burnside) has switched to first-run movies—and upped their ticket prices, although at $9 they’re still very reasonable—and is now a solid choice for Eastsiders to check out stuff they’d once have to trek to Cinema 21, Living Room Theaters, or Regal Fox Tower to see. For inexpensive second-run movies, go to Academy Theater (7818 SE Stark), whose packed schedule crams as many as eight different titles per day onto three small screens.
Of course, summertime moviegoing in Portland isn’t just about ducking inside a theater to beat the heat. Even on our most unbearable days, things usually get tolerable again once the sun dips down to the horizon, and Portland Parks and Recreation host a bevy of evening outdoor flicks for their free, family-friendly Movies in the Park series. For every screening of kiddie garbage like Minions 7: Still Minionin’, they’ll show something great like Isle of Dogs (Fri Aug 3, Fernhill Park) or Paddington 2 (Sat Sept 1, Montavilla Park). Mark your schedule for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Thurs Aug 16, Elizabeth Caruthers Park) and the 2011 documentary Can, about a Vietnamese refugee dealing with the Asian American taboo of mental illness (Fri July 20, Harrison Park).
Meanwhile, the Northwest Film Center, whose subterranean Whitsell Auditorium (1219 SW Park) never sees a speck of sunlight and stays reliably cool, also offers an under-the-stars film series. Their Top Down Rooftop Cinema series—which this summer takes place on the roof of PS2 Parking Structure on the Portland State campus—kicks off Thursday, July 26, and runs weekly through the end of August. This summer’s lineup is a strong one: Half Baked (Thurs July 26), But I’m a Cheerleader (Thurs August 2), Breakin’ (Thurs August 16), Bringing Up Baby (Thurs August 23), and Escape from New York (Thurs August 30).