Cinema #12: Movie Theater Marquees


I can't help it. I'm oddly fascinated by pictures of old movie theater marquees. As you know, I'm not real into the gilded age of cinema - those 20s-30s movie houses that looked like Liberace's boudoir.  I'm more of a drive-in or 42nd Street kind of guy.... and any vintage photo of these places is right up my alley. Most of them are long since abandoned or converted into flea markets or evangelical churches - which makes these images all the more interesting.

In the early 80s, NYC began its clean up of Times Square and 42nd Street. The grindhouse was vanquished in favor of The Gap and The Lion King on Broadway.  Indeed, a once unique, if not seedy, cinematic hub has been officially Starbucked.  It's a pity, but, to be fair, most of these NYC movie theaters had converted to hard core porn before the renovation started - thus, they were on their way out without the help of the city planners.

Whether it's a grindhouse or a main street cineplex, what made them special was they each had character. Each town had a connection to their movie house. Whereas, nowadays, we just want them big and prepared to play loud, obnoxious THX sound, preferably in 3-D.... and when that theater gets "super sized" by another down the street, just cast it aside like yesterday's news.

But this gallery isn't about the architecture as much as it is about the marquee.  There's something cool about finding an old picture with Death Wish II or Twins of Evil up in lights.  It's a brilliant snapshot of the times. It does my heart good to see Soylent Green and Skyjacked together on a drive-in marquee. 

Granted, a lot of these images feature movies that were of the X rated variety. But, then, many of these photos are from the 1970s- so, what else would you expect? So, sit back and enjoy 143 (!) images of movie theater marquees from yesteryear.

(Don't forget you can view images full screen by clicking the "4 arrow" icon in the bottom right (hit "escape" to return).


  1. Oh c'mon! I need to go to bed! I sure wish flickr would show you which image you're currently viewing, like "49 of 141" so I knew how much longer I'll be staying up. :) And why don't they have next/prev buttons in the full-size pages? So much wasted bandwidth they cause.

  2. Apart from agreeing with the first comment...

    The photos of Times Square have given me an urge to play pinball -- anyone who was there at the time will understand -- and the drive-ins make me crave an A&W root beer and Teen Burger with onion rings. Dammit!

  3. As someone who grew up many years (1980-1988) in the Bronx, spending many a weekend killing time in Times Square, I have to correct you there. Grindhouses were everywhere, with many a porn shop inbetween. The time they started tearing them out was in the early 90s, when Rudolph Giuliani became mayor, and started the "Disneyfication" of the area, to make it more tourist friendly.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Times_square#History :

    "In the 1980s, a commercial building boom began in the western parts of the Midtown as part of a long-term development plan developed under Mayor Ed Koch and David Dinkins. In the mid-1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (1994–2002) led an effort to "clean up" the area, increasing security, driving out pornographic theaters, drug dealers and "squeegee men", and opening more tourist-friendly attractions and upscale establishments. Advocates of the remodeling claim that the neighborhood is safer and cleaner. Detractors, on the other hand, argue that the changes have diluted or "Disneyfied" the character of Times Square and have unfairly targeted lower income New Yorkers from nearby neighborhoods such as Hell's Kitchen."

    In the 80s, there were some hotels built in Times Square, construction on the Port Authority building on 42nd and 8th Ave was *finally* completed, but really, the real destruction took place under Giuliani.

  4. Oh, one nice bit of nostalgia for me, was going into the grindhouse theaters during the summer to cool off (this was when only 1/5th of the subway lines had air conditioning, and a/c was still extremely expensive), watching horror movies, endless ninja flicks, martial arts films, the occasional Rambo knockoff, etc. You could see 3 movies for $3, a bargain, and the contact high you would get from the second hand pot smoke floating in the air made most of what was showing bearable.

    I don't know if they have them there today (I haven't been in NYC since 1991 or so), but they had great gyro shops, and shish kabob vendors where you could fill up for under $5. As long as you didn't try identifying the meat that is.

    As for the porn theaters, they were fun too for a teenaged geek like me who didn't have much luck with girls in general. Of course, who knows what would have happened if Giuliani didn't shut them down? They probably would have disappeared on their own once that newfangled internet thing caught on.

  5. There were three town theaters near me when I was a kid. In the 80's the multi-theaters put them all out. One of the three was knocked down about twenty years ago. Another became a home for various smaller businesses, but has set abandoned for more than a decade now. The third set vacant for at least a decade, but then in the late 90's it received a lot of work and is now the local arts center. Much of the same look is still there and they regularly show classic films.

  6. Great photos - I love the signage/theater building design on some of these. My mother always waxes nostalgia about how movie theaters - before A/C was available in homes - were where everyone went on a hot summer day because it was one of the few public places that had A/C.

  7. s.maines@live.comMay 01, 2012

    I Have 3 Glass Outdoor Wall Mounted Showcases From An Old Movie Theatre. These Showcases Are The Ones That The Old Movie Posters Were Displayed In On the Outside Of The Theatre..... Looking For Someone Interested In Them....s.maines@live.com

  8. You'll like these photos I took way back when! Great blog!