To determine the best first-run theaters in Manhattan, we scouted them and assigned values to the key parts of the experience, then went to the movies with clipboards. Here are the criteria:
● Seat comfort, screen size, ambience … … 40
● Cleanliness … …15
● Access (escalators, crowd control) … … .10
● Bathrooms (number of stalls, cleanliness) … …7
● Selection of movies and number of screens … …13
● Ticket availability … . . 15
1. Clearview Chelsea
260 W. 23rd St., nr. Eighth Ave.
Sellouts are rare at this eight-screen theater, which has four ticket windows in addition to three electronic kiosks inside. The lobby area is bright, open, and even has a small arcade. Seats are newly upholstered with a pleasant recline. The Rocky Horror tradition lives on Friday and Saturdays at midnight, thanks to a bunch of faithful followers. The only drawbacks: Too many Optimum Online ads before the previews make for repetitive viewing, and long postshow bathroom lines in the women’s room.
Total = 79
141 W. 54th St., nr. Sixth Ave.
The Ziegfeld is a palace. Sure it plays only one film at a time, but everything is done big—there are 1,162 seats and the biggest screen in New York (52 feet across, 20 feet high). There’s an excellent audio system, and a gentle angle to the floors that means you’re never stuck behind someone’s head. It’s best to see blockbusters and big splashy pictures to take advantage of that voluptuous screen and digital projection (it’ll also adjust the sound level depending on how many people are in the theater). But beware the two-hour-plus movie; the seats are a bit close together. Try for aisle seats since the long rows mean you’re climbing over dozens of people if you need to go to the bathroom. If the movie sells out (as Spider-Man 3 will), the crowds in the small entry lobby can be terrifying.
Total = 78
3. AMC Loews Kips Bay
570 Second Ave., at 32nd St.
Kips Bay is the closest thing Manhattan has to a suburban strip mall, with a Borders books, a Rite Aid, and a Petco surrounding the movie multiplex. There’s a sprawling lobby, so you never feel claustrophobic while waiting in the orderly ticket line—but despite just three open ticket windows and five electronic kiosks (for fifteen screens), new movies sell out fast. Buy online (Fandango) and arrive early; getting there less than a half-hour before the show ensures you’ll be sitting in, at best, the first five rows. A broad staircase and escalators make getting to the movie fast. The seats have a comfortable rock and cup holders, but feel a little too low; if you’re over six feet, a two-hour movie could leave you with leg cramps.
Total = 77
4. Regal Battery Park Stadium
102 North End Ave., at Vesey St.
The out-of-the-way Regal Battery Park has always been an oasis of calm amid multiplex insanity. There are seven ticket windows and five kiosks for the eleven (rather small) screens, so there’s rarely a line, and none of our reporters encountered a sold-out show. The legroom of the big, plush seats is decidedly luxurious, although for leg raisers, it’s almost impossible to get your feet on the (empty!) seat in front of you. Seat backs are a bit too rigid. There’s scattered garbage and a little stickiness on the theater floor. There are at least three escalators up to the screening rooms, requiring post-ticket-purchase travel time. The bathroom lines are minimal, and there are seven to nine stalls per floor, but the facilities are dated and not always pristine.
Total = 75
5. AMC Magic Johnson
2309 Frederick Douglass Blvd., at 124th St.
What the AMC Magic Johnson lacks in cleanliness and selection, it makes up for in ambience. The waiting area for the nine-screen theater embodies old-school glamour with black leather seats, a red carpet, and elegant portraits of famous African-Americans. And the snack bar has Slurpees! The seats are comfortable, have high backs, and the underfoot feel isn’t sticky. But bathrooms are messy and paper-clogged, and the theater tends to drop into subzero temperatures. Bring a sweatshirt.
Total = 73