ArcLight Bethesda 3

In my life before kids, I loved going to the movies. For a long time, a girlfriend and I had a standing Tuesday night movie date. We saw dozens of movies together – some were really wonderful, some made us laugh, and some were truly awful, but it was always a good time. A fun night out with a friend for less than $15 was always a good deal, even when the entertainment wasn’t great.

Then I had kids, and suddenly going to the movies didn’t seem like such a great use of date-night time and money. I still remember the first time my husband and I sat through a dud… I spent most of the movie tallying up how much we owed the babysitter. We could have walked out, but then we’d have been wasting the money we spent on tickets … so we sat and stewed, and it was a long, long time before our next movie date.

For years now, my husband and I have joked that we don’t need to go to the movies because we can sit in the dark and not talk for free at home. The truth is that sitting through a bad movie – or a bad movie theater experience – is no longer funny the way it was years ago with my friend. Sitting through a movie we don’t enjoy isn’t just a waste of money, it’s a waste of precious alone time. If you’re anything like us, date night doesn’t come around often enough to spend it wishing we’d chosen something else.

But what if going to the movies could be different?

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Enter ArcLight Bethesda, a place where movies are meant to be special and the experience is intended to be relaxed and hassle-free. The Bethesda location, located inside the Westfield Montgomery shopping center (which I will probably never stop calling Montgomery Mall), is the first East Coast location for this California-based and family-owned chain. ArcLight’s mission is simple: to create the best movie-going environment possible. They haven’t eliminated bad movies, but they have made sure going to the movies is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

All seats in ArcLight Bethesda’s 16 auditoriums are reserved, eliminating one of my personal movie theater pet peeves: being asked to move after you’ve settled in. Movie goers choose seats when they purchase their tickets, either at home online, on ArcLight’s app, or at one of the kiosks in the lobby. Inside each auditorium, seat numbers are clearly marked on the headrest making it easy to find your chosen seat.

There are no commercials shown before movies begin at ArcLight, and there are no giant cardboard cutouts in the lobby. Instead, a giant wall showcases an image from a single film (when we visited, it was a floor-to-ceiling image of Katniss Everdeen), and walls are decorated with prints from movies currently playing. Previews are also kept to a minimum – I counted just three before our movie began.

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ArcLight is home to a café and bar that make for a great pre- or post-movie stop. Though they bill the fare as small bites and shared plates, you could easily have a light dinner in the café. Selections range from house-made potato chips seasoned with Old Bay to ahi tuna poke and proscuitto wrapped dates. The bar has a wide selection of wines, beers and cocktails, including a handful of movie-themed drinks (I couldn’t resist the Perfect Stormy). The beer list includes a handful of local brews, and the café also works with local produce suppliers.

If you haven’t filled up at the café, ArcLight’s concessions stand has a treat for just about every taste. Popcorn is served in tubs rather than bags to eliminate noisy rustling during movies, and you can order it with butter or olive oil. Handmade chocolate bars from Maryland’s Glarus Chocolatier join more standard movie candies, and beer and wine are available for purchase alongside sodas and smoothies. ArcLight’s signature concession is their house-made caramel corn, and I can vouch for its deliciousness.

ArcLight’s ticket prices are definitely higher than the average theater, but their membership program makes the price a bit more friendly. Members get $1 off all tickets purchased online, earn points redeemable for tickets, café, concessions or gift shop purchases, and two free tickets to an ArcLight Presents screening. Membership is usually $15 per year, but in celebration of ArcLight Bethesda’s opening membership is free through May 1st.

There may be no way to completely avoid bad movies, but thanks to ArcLight Bethesda I think we’ll be taking a risk on movie dates more often now.


My husband and I were guests at ArcLight Bethesda during a recent media event, but all thoughts and opinions are my own (and the caramel corn really is delicious). Allison writes about life at home in the Maryland suburbs at Home and Never Alone. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.