I live fairly close to all of the Santa Monica movie theaters and recently saw films in all four. After each movie, I became disgusted with the state of these theaters. Each has big problems and each pales in comparison the new Landmark Theater at the Westside Pavilion and the recently remodeled AMC Century 14 at Century City. Because of these uncomfortable and unpleasant experiences, I decided to update the theater reviews for each.
The Criterion Theater, on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, at the corner of Third Street Promenade and Arizona Avenue, is the best multiplex in Santa Monica.
This fairly modern theater of six screens on two floors is a generally good value for your comfort dollar.
I think three of six screens are equipped with THX sound and Dolby Digital. The screen size in each varies, as well as the theater capacity.
On the first floor, which is slightly below ground level, are theaters One, Two and Three. All three theaters feature stadium seating. Theater Two is the best screen in the entire complex. Stadium seating, THX, Dolby Digital and a large screen are complimented by a large theater. There is a large center area of seating, but more importantly, there are also side areas of seating. This means that there are two aisles in the theater, allowing people to access the seating on both sides of the aisle. This prevents that many more people from having to crawl over you compared to a theater with only one seating area. The large screen here is nice and provides a good alternative to one of the single screen theaters in Westwood.
Theater One is smaller. It has the dreaded one area of seating in the middle, but because of the stadium seating, it somehow doesn't seem that bad. Occasionally, you get a little bit of bleed-through from the larger screen next door. I avoid as much of that as possible by sitting on the aisle opposite the wall that the two houses share.
Theater Three is even smaller and generally where the films go before they leave the theater for good. It's not very nice or comfortable.
One of the bad things about the stadium seating in this theater is that there is little leg room between the seats. The top of the seat back in front of you may meet just under your knees. And the armrests don't move, meaning you are almost pinned into a fairly uncomfortable seat. If you sit on an aisle, you can stretch your legs out a little, but otherwise, forget it.
However, this is not an acceptable reason to put your feet over the back of the seat in front of you. When exactly did this practice start? It seems like it happens all the time. Most people attempt to ensure that they are not bothering you by moving a few seats down from you. It's really distracting to sense something moving on your side, in a darkened theater, look over and find a foot sticking through the seats, on top of the arm rest. Also, if your feet over the seat, you legs will most likely get uncomfortable or cramp. Every time you move them, you will knock the seat your feet were resting on. The seats are bolted together. Anytime you kick one seat, someone sitting five or ten seats away will feel it. Stop it. STOP IT!
On the second floor, are Theaters Four, Five and Six. These theaters are more or less the same layouts as the theaters on the first floor with one major exception. No stadium seating. Theater Five is the big theater on this floor, followed by Four and finally Six.
The Criterion has snack bars on each floor. Unfortunately, they serve Pepsi and may now have the highest prices in town for popcorn and hotdogs. With so many places to get coffee and food on Third Street Promenade, it seems like an ideal situation to buy something better and cheaper and bring it in with you. However, this theater has a strict policy about bringing in food. You figure it out. An usher at a Mann theater was once going to refuse my entry because I was carrying a bottle of water until another usher came over and said "Water is OK". Why are the Mann Theaters such Nazis about this? Are they trying to make sure they don't have to clean up a mess? Considering the number of times I have walked out of theaters that looked like popcorn was thrown across the entire floor I don't see how this makes a difference. Are they trying to ensure higher snack bar revenues? If I was stopped at the door and told I couldn't bring in my coffee, I certainly wouldn't buy a Pepsi to replace the beverage I just threw away.
Parking in Santa Monica is fairly good. There are a number of lots on Second and Fourth Street with easy access to Third Street Promenade. In any of these city lots, if you park before 6pm, you get two hours free. Additional half hours are $1. If you park after 6pm, there is a $3 flat fee. Don't park anywhere else. There are two lots very central to this theater, just beyond the corners of Second and Arizona and the corner of Fourth and Arizona.
Just like they do at the Village, during busy shows, they load up little carts with drinks, popcorn and candy and make them available at in front of the doors to each house. This helps make the lines at the concession stands move faster. There are also concession lines on all three floors (the third floor is the entrance floor).
The worst thing about this theater is the bathrooms. At least in the men's room, the entire area is permeated with a sickeningly strong 'orange scent'. It is pumped into the restroom on a regular basis and can make you gag.
Overall, the Criterion is the best theater in Santa Monica. But I'm not sure that makes it worth the visit. Go to the Landmark or the AMC Century City instead.