Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse in Columbus (photo courtesy of Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse)

5 Ohio Movie Houses for Film Buffs

From classic theaters with long histories to newer spaces that offer places to congregate once the credits roll, these spots are all winners.

Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse, Columbus: This two-screen spot was the first movie theater in the nation to obtain a liquor license in the early 1970s. It shows first-run flicks, independent movies, showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and series like Saturday Cinema Classics. Beer tastings happen once a month, with a two-hour sampling followed by a roughly two-hour film.

The Nightlight, Akron: This one-screen downtown Akron spot shows documentaries, foreign films and arthouse movies. It also has just 42 seats, making for an intimate environment to enjoy its curated lineup that includes events like the Oscar-Nominated Short Films series in which moviegoers vote for their favorites for a chance to win a year of free popcorn. Concession-stand offerings include Jeni’s ice cream, Norka soda and nut mixes from the Peanut Shoppe of Akron.

People walking outside Gateway Film Center in Columbus (photo courtesy of Gateway Film Center)
Gateway Film Center, Columbus: This eight-screen theater in Ohio State University’s Gateway University District shows commercial, independent and international films. It also hosts series such as Pioneers of African American Cinema, which showcases Black filmmakers of the past. The theater also has three spots for snacks and drinks: Craft Services, a walkup bar for popcorn, cocktails and candies; The Torpedo Room, a members-only speakeasy; and The Festival Lounge, a bar and restaurant offering elevated movie night classics.

By-Jo Theatre, Dayton: Family is the focus at this one-screen movie house in Dayton’s Germantown neighborhood. Founded in 1920, the By-Jo was first a silent movie theater with a piano player up front and its old-timey interior is almost entirely intact, down to the original fold-down seats. The 185-seat theater offers kid-friendly classics and commercial movies. Plus, if it’s a child’s first time at the cinema, they get a certificate to prove it. 

Esquire Theatre, Cincinnati: Opening as the Clifton Opera House in 1911, this Queen City landmark operated until 1983 when the building fell into disrepair. The city proposed knocking it down and building a fast-food restaurant, which ultimately led to a court battle that resulted in the building being saved. In 1990, the venue reopened with renovations as The Esquire and now has six screens that show currently running, arthouse, foreign and independent films. The theater also hosts director Q&As and topical forums.