SIFF Cinema Downtown Lara Swimmer

At the Movies

With thriving independent movie theaters and diverse film festivals, Seattle has much to offer fans of cinema.

Over 10 days in mid-May, movie buffs from near and far will gather at venues throughout the city for the 50th anniversary of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), which showcases nearly 300 movies—including shorts, documentaries, and world premieres—from about 75 countries. SIFF is also a sponsor of the Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival in partnership with MoPOP (325 Fifth Ave N), which takes place in early June.

SIFF Cinema Downtown(formerly the Cinerama) Lara Swimmer

SIFF operates several noteworthy historic movie theaters that present a mix of art-house and retrospective programming year-round, including the state-of-the-art SIFF Film Center (305 Harrison St) in Seattle Center, the nearby SIFF Cinema Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave N), the historic SIFF Cinema Egyptian (805 E Pine St) on Capitol Hill, and the recently acquired SIFF Cinema Downtown (2100 Fourth Ave), a midcentury modern beauty in Belltown that had previously been saved from demolition by the late Microsoft magnate Paul G. Allen.

Other theaters of note around Seattle include Ballard’s 1914 Majestic Bay Theatres (2044 NW Market St), known for its distinctive neon sign and nautical design; the Central District’s festive Central Cinema (1411 21st Ave), which features an extensive menu of pub fare and local beers; and the city’s oldest continuously operating indie movie palace, the Grand Illusion Cinema (1403 NE 50th St), in the U District. A few blocks away, the Varsity Theatre (4329 University Way NE) screens mostly foreign and lesser-known movies, and in West Seattle, the Admiral Theater (2343 California Ave SW) occupies a restored building opened in 1919 to screen silent movies. You’ll find a pair of popular cinemas in Columbia City: the 1920s Regency Revival Ark Lodge (4816 Rainier Ave S) and the intimate Beacon (4405 Rainier Ave S). And Capitol Hill is home to the excellent Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Ave).

Mark Your Calendar

Vibrant cinema gatherings take place throughout the year, often showcasing Seattle’s diverse communities.

Children’s Film Festival Seattle; early February

Seattle Asian American Film Festival; late February

Seattle Jewish Film Festival; mid-March

NFFTY: National Film Festival for Talented Youth; late April

Seattle Black Film Festival; late April

Local Sightings (Northwest-filmmaking focused); mid-September

Seattle Latino Film Festival; mid-October

Seattle Queer Film Festival; mid-October

Tasveer South Asian Film Festival; mid-October

Seattle on Film

Few movies are more closely associated with their filming locations than the beloved Meg Ryan–Tom Hanks 1993 romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle—visiting movie buffs still seek out the gracious houseboat on Lake Union, the Athenian Seafood Restaurant and Bar (1517 Pike Pl) in Pike Place Market, and other sites from the movie. Other notable pictures shot locally in the ‘90s include the grunge-inspired Singles (1992) and the high school rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). One of the earliest major box-office draws to show off the city (and the brand-new Space Needle), It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963) stars Elvis Presley. More recently, Zoë Kravitz unwittingly becomes embroiled in a crime conspiracy in Kimi (2022), a taut, tech-themed thriller filmed around downtown, the waterfront, and the U District.


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