Movie House of Worship: Tampa Theatre

By  · Published on December 23rd, 2012

“Movie House of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, guest submitter Michael Silva shares one of his favorite theaters. His comments are those quoted. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.

Name: Tampa Theatre

Location: 711 Franklin St., Tampa, FL

Opened: October 15, 1926, designed by renowned movie palace architect John Eberson (he also did Austin’s Paramount Theatre). Nationally listed for landmark status and reopened in 1978.

No. of screens: 1

Current first-run titles: Anna Karenina

Repertory programming: Classic films are common, and due to this being December it’s Holiday Classics time. Already this month they’ve shown The Muppet Christmas Carol, White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street. This weekend’s offering is It’s a Wonderful Life. They also showed Rare Exports a couple weeks ago, but that’s not listed on the roster with the others.

Special Events: Concerts and special screenings and other events are also a staple of the theater, which claims to host 600 events per year. Coming up, they’ve got a preview of the first episode of season 3 of Downton Abbey, a charitable magic show starring Reynold Alexander for the Children’s Cancer Research Group, an acoustic performance by Matisyahu and the annual Tampa Theatre Oscar Night Party. They also do a winefest in September and regularly give “Balcony-To-Backstage” tours.

Why I worship here: “What I love about the Tampa Theatre is the atmosphere. The theater’s entire makeup doesn’t seem to have changed from this regal ’20s almost art deco vibe. There’s a dim golden hue throughout that gives it a weird glow. The second floor balcony and corridor has this cool aura like you’re in a lost hotel that’s still storing bootlegged booze from the prohibition. The front screen is built to look like it’s set in the middle of a Spanish courtyard surrounded by windows and statues and the entire ceiling is painted like it’s a night sky, which looks pretty cool if you find yourself staring at the ceiling for some reason. The only downside are the bathrooms look like something you’d find in an Amsterdam red light district hostel.”

Why you should worship here: “The first movie I saw there was The Tempest back in 2010. It wasn’t a great movie, but the theater’s aura made it much better than it had any right to be. There were never any screaming children to worry about in all the times that I’ve been there, either. The theatre is almost always booked whenever a film festival comes through Tampa, so it’s a great place to see a small indie movie without having to drive all the way to Orlando.”

Recent screening of note: “My favorite experience there has to be from the Gasparilla Film Festival, where they gave Keith David a lifetime achievement award. It was a pretty packed house and they screened some highlights of all the movie and television roles he played since 1982 when he starred in The Thing. It would’ve been perfect if they showed The Thing afterwards, but the film festival showed it the day before as a drive-in movie at a parking lot. They showed The Hunter with Willem Dafoe, which was only an okay movie.

“The best actual movie experience was Tree of Life back in 2011. Even though it’s an old theater, the music blasting through the speakers during the creation of the universe was massive. Coupled with the almost church-like quiet of the audience and courtyard setting definitely gave it a cool awe inspiring vibe.”

Devotion to the concessions: “There really isn’t anything out of the ordinary for concessions. It’s your standard popcorn and beer type, so it’s really only the basics. That’s probably the weakest part about the theater along with the limited selection of movies they can screen. I don’t think the place even has a kitchen, to be honest.”

Last word: “Watching something like Tree of Life or Casablanca is a different experience there than it would be at a mall AMC or Regal. It’s one of the few theaters still around that will give you the feeling that watching a movie is an experience to be appreciated and shared. Even when it’s packed there’s never anyone texting or chatting over the movie. The only problem is that there’s only one screen and usually only one showing per day. But even though they’ll only show one movie for a week, the movie itself is pretty good and usually not the type that’ll see a massive release such as Arbitrage or The Queen of Versailles.”

Once again, if you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.