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Catch a Screening at These Midwestern Film Theaters

by Mia McGill

A building courtyard with multiple instances of Trylon Cinema signage and several movie posters.
Photo Credit: Mia McGill
The Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis, MN.

With less than 10% of theaters in the country showing analog film prints, these Midwestern theaters are among the few keeping the art alive.

In an increasingly digital world, opportunities to see analog film screenings are becoming rare. Less than 10% of theaters nationwide still house film projectors, with the majority having switched to digital projection in the early 2010s—it became a necessity of the times in order to keep up with new releases. The rise of premium audio and visual formats like Dolby and IMAX cinema helped cement digital theaters’ dominance across the country as well.

For all the bells and whistles of digital cinema, however, there are still many across the country who are loyal to the analog formats. From college film societies to museums and nonprofit arthouse theaters, there’s still a small but mighty contingent of a couple hundred theaters in the U.S. dedicated to both the preservation and screening of 16mm, 35mm, and 70mm film—including several great options throughout the Midwest!

Doc Films

Chicago, IL

Based out of the University of Chicago with roots dating back to the 1930s, Doc Films is the nation’s oldest student film society. Student– and volunteer-run, they do the important and rare work of not only supporting analog film presentation, but also training new generations of young people on the logistics and practice of film projection and preservation. It’s also worth noting that they have a very talented design team that puts out a beautifully-designed program graphic to accompany the calendar every season. Doc’s unique offerings reflect the diversity of film taste among its volunteer programmers—I mean, where else could you see early Miyazakirecent Academy Award nominees, and Paris Hilton starring in a low-budget Gothic rock opera all under one roof?

Doc Films' Spring 2024 calendar graphic, containing a Principal Components Analysis of the spring's programming, along with descriptions of all of the programmed series.
Photo Credit: Doc FIlms
The Spring 2024 Doc Films calendar.

Music Box Theatre

Chicago, IL

If you ask someone to name an arthouse theater in the Midwest, chances are they’ll say Music Box. Built almost a century ago and operating continuously since the ‘80s, it’s the perfect venue to find both current indie releases and repertory film screenings on the calendar. The theater is home to a variety of long-running series and festivals, including the local favorite Chicago Critics Film Festival. Some of their other offerings include gems as monthly midnight Rocky Horror screenings, silent films with live accompaniment, and unique one-off programming like the upcoming Godzilla vs. Music Box series. You can also try your hand at their weekly Music Box Movie Trivia every Sunday (as I did, unsuccessfully), but be prepared to square up against some teams of seasoned regulars with impossibly encyclopedic film knowledge.

A theater with signage reading, "Music Box".
Photo Credit: Music Box Theatre
Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.

The Historic Artcraft Theater

Franklin, IN

Prior to visiting the Artcraft, I’d never been to a film theater with as many families making up such a high percentage of the audience. A big part of promoting analog film presentation should be breaking the stereotype of high-quality film experiences being elite and highbrow, and the Artcraft’s offering of more popular films is a really refreshing take on the repertory cinema model. Like, yes, I actually do think it’s just as important to have film screenings of The Karate Kid and Night at the Museum as it is to show Hitchcock or Wenders.

The Artcraft’s affordable prices and enthusiastic volunteers create a uniquely welcoming and community-centric feel—anywhere you can get a ticket to a 35mm screening, a soda, and a popcorn for under $10 total is a stand-out in my book.

A theater building at night with bright red and yellow lights and signage reading "Artcraft".
Photo Credit: The Historic Artcraft Theater
The Historic Artcraft Theater in Franklin, Indiana.

Indiana State Museum

Indianapolis, IN

Did you know that Indianapolis is home to one of only 19 IMAX film theaters in the country (and one of only three in the entire region)? In fact, this spring, the Indiana State Museum was the only screen in the Midwest that theatergoers could see Denis Villeneuve’s critically acclaimed Dune: Part Two in premium, larger-than-life 70mm IMAX. Fans from all over the region and beyond (myself included) ventured out hundreds of miles to witness the spectacle on the museum’s six-story-tall screen, the largest in the entire state of Indiana. 

A tray cart carrying nine boxes, in front of a large display advertising Dune Part Two in 70MM IMAX.
Photo Credit: IMAX Theater Indiana State Museum
The IMAX Theater at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis receives their film print of Dune: Part Two.

The Trylon Cinema

Minneapolis, MN

Living in the Twin Cities, I have such a soft spot for the Trylon. The 90-seat nonprofit theater in South Minneapolis hosts exclusively repertory screenings, and features a diverse mix of in-house programming along with monthly and quarterly series from groups like Tape Freaks, the Cult Film Collective, and Archives on Screen. They’re volunteer-run—not just the theater itself, but also its affiliated film blog Perisphere that invites local film enthusiasts to provide diverse commentary on the programming from each calendar. Of all the absolute treats of screenings that the Trylon hosts, my personal favorites fall on the October calendar—I’ve managed to survive their annual horror movie marathon, Horrorthon, the past two years, and I’m always seated for the late 35mm show of the Japanese camp horror classic House every Halloween night.

A mural reading, "Trylon Cinema" painted on the outside of a building.
Photo Credit: Mia McGill
The Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis, Minnesota.