4 Different Types of Movie Theaters

What are multiplex theaters? Is that where they do karaoke? A drive-in? Is that the place where you buy food on the go? Maybe a drive-by? What is an IMAX? I don’t know.

I asked myself these questions, and the answers I wrote down are all true. I had no idea that they were all names for the different types of theaters today. Anyway, let’s take a look at them, and find out why an IMAX is called an IMAX.

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Types of Movie Theaters

1. Multiplex

multiplex movie theater

A multiplex theater is a name for a single compound or building that houses more than five cinema auditoriums, each with their corresponding movie screens. The number is a bit vague though. Sometimes, people would say it has to have eight cinemas to qualify as a multiplex theater.

Then there are the megaplex theaters, where people say that it has to contain 14 theaters or more. Again, the numbers are vague, but this much is certain: a megaplex cinema should have stadium seating, to qualify as a megaplex cinema theater complex.

Depending on the owner’s whims, amenities may vary from multiplex theater complex to multiplex theater complex. As for the individual cinemas within the complex, the amenities are usually standardized.

The first documented case of two theaters sharing the same building was in Moncton, New Brunswick in 1915. At first, both theaters had separate entrances. In 1915, the owner decided to renovate the lobby so that both theaters would share a single entrance. Each theater had its own ticket booth, and showed different movies at any one time.

This definition of multiplex theaters is not to be confused with the so-named Multiplex Cinema chain, owned by MX-Multiplex Holding in Ukraine. Whether a movie is known for its special effects or writing, it can be found in a typical multiplex theater.


IMAX movie theater

Now, we learn what IMAX means. According to information disseminated by its creators, IMAX means Image MAXimum. Simply put, IMAX is a method of filming with higher image resolutions, and showing larger images on an IMAX movie theater screen.

Film crews must use specialized IMAX technology movie cameras to film in IMAX resolutions and size. In comparison to industry standard equipment, IMAX cameras have the ability to film thrice the theoretical horizontal resolution size. To translate the captured IMAX film on to the theater screen, an IMAX specialized projector becomes a necessary part of an IMAX movie theater.

How do IMAX cameras capture great images? It’s all in the perforations. 65 millimeter film passes through at 15 perforations. This means that the film runs through at 24 frames per second. In layman’s terms, that’s 102.7 meters a minute.

For drivers, it is 6 KPH. Humans generally walk at speeds of 5 KPH. Can you imagine movie camera film snaking along the sidewalk, going faster than you?

Anyway, compared to an industry standard 65 millimeter camera, 102.7 meters a minute is pretty fast; considering that the standard runs at 34 meters a minute. This is IMAX’s advertised tripled horizontal resolution size.

In addition, the IMAX widescreen format, again using the 65 mm camera, has 2.74 in. by 1.91 in resolution. That’s larger than standard 1.91 in. by 0.87 in. Not bad for state of the art video technology that has been 45 years running, 1971 to 2016.

IMAX is generally reserved for popular movie franchises or epic movies due to their higher budgets.

3. Independent and Second-Run

2nd run movie theater

Independent cinema theaters are those movie houses that are not part of a franchise, a theater chain, or a multiplex theater complex. These types of cinemas are more than likely, old neighborhood movie theaters; some of which have become a part of building conservation efforts.


In the United Kingdom, the term independent cinema refers to the culture of keeping in touch with the history of the cinematic world, as well as showing one European movie for every foreign movie.

With oversight from the British Film Institute, independent showings have been in place since the 1980’s. This cinema exhibition can be traced back all the way to the 1930’s. Cinema theaters in the UK are part of the European Cinemas Network.

Second-Run cinema theaters are formally called Discount Theaters. They have other designations like sub-run theater, dollar theater, and dollar movies. These theaters exhibit films that have been taken off the first showings list by the film owners.

Patrons are charged discounted rates. It may not be an issue to many, but second run films are lower in quality. This is because the film has been run so many times for the first showing.

This type of theater may not last long because of the DVD. It’s cheaper to buy, and keep, the movie with you, rather than go to a theater, pay for a seat and, buy some snacks. You also get to avoid bumping into other people and being bumped into, stepping on other’s feet and being stepped on, etc.

With all the aggravation and added expense, buying a DVD and watching at home is more practical and convenient.

See Also: 13 Types of Balloons

4. Drive-In

drive-in movie theater

The first similitude of a drive in movie cinema began in New Mexico. Aside from seating for theater goers, parked cars also had a view of the movie screen. The cinema was named Theatre de Guadalupe. On April 1915, it showed its first movie, ‘Bags of Gold’. After a very short period of operating time, the theater was sold the following year.

The patent for the drive-in theater was applied for, and awarded to, Richard Hollingshead, Jr., in May 1933. Based in New Jersey, Hollingshead was already an owner of a chemical plant, before he started studying the dynamics of a drive-in theater.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hollingshead, his venture did not turn a profit. Three years later, the drive-in theater was sold to another New Jersey theater owner.

Through the years, there were plenty of successes and failures. However, it was in the decade between 1950 and 1960, that the drive-in theater acquired wide-spread success. In this time period, the United States had more than four thousand drive-in theaters around the country.

The success of the drive-in theaters came with its privacy. Teens with cars would go to drive-in theaters with their dates, and were afforded better privacy than in their own homes.

Because drive-in theaters were located in huge lots far from the environs of towns or cities, theater owners had carte blanche on what they would show on their big screens; so they started showing pornography.

Still in this same era, drive in theaters gained the moniker, ‘passion pits’, from the media. The situation grew worse in the 70’s when theater owners started showing exploitation films.

It was also in the 1970’s that the colorful era of the drive-in theater began to decline. With the introduction of video storage through Betamax VHS, as well as the oil crisis, people started to avoid drive-in theaters.

Today, there are only three hundred or so drive-in theaters operating in the US. This is the same story for second-run cinemas. The advent of the DVD literally brought the curtains down.

Thanks for researching the different types of cinema theaters with me. As for why I associated multiplex theaters with karaoke, take a look at multiplex cassette tapes. The older generations would understand. As for drive-in movie theaters, there are none here. I have a right to be confused.

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