A glimpse of Milwaukee’s top movie theaters

By Colleen DuVall

Going out to the movies is a well loved tradition. But pickiness sets in when wary of your entertainment budget. Where you choose to view a film could become just as important as what you want to see. Here are some local, worthwhile options to consider:

Times Cinema

The Times Cinema, 5906 W. Vliet St., has been a Milwaukee institution for 76 years. Unobtrusive yet homey, it is always a treat to attend a screening or special event there. From “Looney Tunes” shorts to “Three Stooges” festivals, “Buffy The Musical” sing-a-longs to live blues and world premieres, the Times boasts a little something for everyone.

Larry Widen, owner of the Times Cinema and Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse, acquired the former in January 2007 and the latter in September of the same year. According to Widen, one of the biggest challenges in running specialty movie theaters is the competition. Netflix, On Demand and larger complexes all pose threats.

For Halloween this year at the Times, the Brew City Bombshell Burlesque revue will return on Oct. 29. Also on tap this season: “The Evil Dead” restored and a – pardon the pun – revamped “Nosferatu” with an 18-piece band to play musical accompaniment.

Looking ahead to 2012, screenings of “I Am Nancy,” a documentary about Heather Lagenkamp, star of the original “Nightmare On Elm Street,” are in the works. Lagenkamp herself may make a personal appearance.

Widen also wants to build on the “Cult Film Creepshow” series he started running this May, held on Friday and Saturday nights at 11 p.m. He hopes to book more Milwaukee premieres, like “Hobo With A Shotgun,” as well as more of the newer zombie films. Widen said he wants the Times to be known as multi-faceted. If this schedule is any indication, it will continue to be just that.

Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse

Rosebud Cinema, 6823 W. North Ave., is the sister cinema around the corner from the Times. It too screens films that stray from the beaten path.

What’s different about the Rosebud though, is you can enjoy dinner and even a glass of wine with your flick. Menu selections include pizza (full-size and personal), toasted cheese ravioli, chicken parmesan sandwiches, onion rings and a hot fudge brownie sundae for dessert. Draft beers include specialty brews Lakefront Brewery’s Casablanca and Maltese Falcon Riverwest Stein.

To get all the cozier, take a date and cuddle in one of their love seats sprinkled throughout the theater. Get there earlier though — those tend to go fast.

The Oriental Theatre

Landmark Theatres were created in 1974 and have expanded to 55 locations. The Landmark Company owns the Oriental and Downer Theatres. Both participate in the annual Milwaukee Film Festival, and both offer an intimate and comfortable theater-going experience with movies that aren’t always available at your local multiplex.

They even use Ecoselect popcorn bags, a tradition started in honor of Earth Day of last year.

The Oriental, 2230 N. Farwell Ave., was awarded Flavorwire.com 2011 Reader’s Choice: The 25 Best Movie Theaters in America and is also the U.S. record holder for the longest running screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The theater began showing “Rocky Horror” in 1978 and now holds midnight screenings the second Saturday of each month with a live Milwaukee “Rocky” cast Sensual Daydreams.

Built in 1927, the Oriental houses three screens. A Kimball Theater pipe organ performance kicks of the main show at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. They also offer cocktails, wine and beer to accompany your popcorn.

The best part is you don’t have to go through a mall to get to it. From the giant Buddhas keeping you company in the main theater to the porcelain lions adorning the lobby, the Oriental is truly a cinematic haven.