Founded in 1939, the Plaza Theatre is Atlanta’s longest-running and only independent cinema. Designed in an Art-Deco style by architect George Harwell Bond, and located in the Briarcliff Plaza, the theatre opened with George Cukor’s The Women (1939) in the winter of that year. The cinema’s signature attraction, its 20-foot screen surrounded by golden curtains, originally entertained up to six-hundred patrons per screening in its heyday. The Plaza’s most iconic feature, and still original to this day, is its glorious marquee featuring a blue ‘wave’ at the crest, and its radiant and colorful billboard down below.
Despite 83 years of tumultuous existence, the Plaza has persevered, having adapted a number of times throughout the century in order to survive—including a brief period as an adult cinema in the 1970s. By 1983, following a purchase by cinema proprietor George LeFont, the Plaza finally saw its first glimpse as Atlanta’s hub for arthouse and international films. Since then, a handful of owners and community members have helped solidify the Plaza’s place as the city’s cultural film center for generations to come. Under current owner, Chris Escobar, the Plaza has since experienced a flourish of upgrades and additions, including two small auditoriums in place of the balcony, alongside projection upgrades like 4K digital and 35/70mm film.
But the movies themselves aren’t the only attraction: the Plaza’s long central hallway is adorned with its vibrant and eccentric style, with eye-catching amenities such as the poster mural (created by former owners Jonathan and Gayle Rej, who along with friends, pieced together the collage with 81 posters), the RKO Pictures mural, an antique photo booth, and perhaps the most unusual of the all: a micro VHS cinema (created by AJ Holder, Plaza’s Production Manager), so that patrons could enjoy staff-picks of VHS titles before the show. And of course, let’s not forget the ghosts: if you’re feeling brave, ask a staff member to enlighten you with some stories.
Since the rise of the Georgia film industry, Plaza’s charming character and iconic marquee have been featured in a number of film and television productions, such as Watchmen (2019), Tales (2017), Being Mary Jane (2013), Atlanta (2016), Halt And Catch Fire (2014), Doctor Sleep (2021), I Want You Back (2021), and more.
The Plaza audience now enjoys a robust slate of cult, arthouse, and independent programming, in addition to an ever-growing slate of special events and community partnerships like the Rocky Horror Picture Show (with live shadow cast Lips Down on Dixie), the Plazadrome classic film series (a partnership with Videodrome, Atlanta’s only video store), Wussy Mag’s monthly queer camp film series, and the nearly five-decades running annual Atlanta Film Festival.
Know Before You Go
The theatre opens 30 minutes before showtime every day. Tickets vary from $15-20 depending on the event. See website for showtimes and special events.