The latest Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in the Austin-based chain's Dallas-Fort Worth collection is on John Carpenter Freeway and pays homage to John Carpenter. And with all due respect to the agriculturalist and businessman who once owned the largest dairy farms in North Texas and helped found Big Bend National Park, it's the other John Carpenter.
"We've repurposed John Carpenter Freeway into John Carpenter Freeway," says Alamo Drafthouse DFW creative director James Wallace, referring to the acclaimed director behind such films as The Thing, Escape from New York, and Halloween.
The newest DFW location to open in the Drafthouse chain will take moviegoers on a virtual tour of Carpenter's works from the lobby and ticket stand to the halls leading to seven screens. Alamo Drafthouse Las Colinas starts with a soft opening April 17 and kicks off with a grand opening May 1. The Las Colinas theater will be one of seven in the growing DFW chain, with additional locations planned for Denton, Fort Worth and an undisclosed location that Drafthouse DFW Chief Operating Officer Bill DiGaetano says will be announced next month.
Of course, the movie theater chain didn't move into the Toyota Music Factory just to take advantage of the irony of being next to a major highway that shares a name with an iconic and beloved filmmaker. DiGaetano says it's a prime spot in a growing part of town where people on both sides of DFW can meet for a movie.
"We knew we wanted to be here," DiGaetano says. "Being in Las Colinas off John Carpenter Freeway is so central to the Metroplex. I live in Tarrant County, and I have so many friends who live in Dallas County, and this is where you can meet in the middle."
The homages to the acclaimed horror and action movie director start after a short walk up the stairs to the ticket counter, where a massive, unrevealed piece of scenery sits behind a cover that should be perfect for photo ops, particularly if you're a fan of "big trouble," Wallace hints.
The hallways leading to the theaters are covered with crimson wallpaper featuring patterns that come from the schematics for 35mm film projectors. The walls are covered with reimagined Carpenter movie posters designed by Mondo Tees, the movie memorabilia shop that provides Alamo Drafthouse with exclusive prints of posters, T-shirts and other items.
"There are so many iconic films, it was hard to pick just one," Wallace says. "They all evoke such strong, bold imagery that we decided to have a few instead."
The John Carpenter homage will continue with the theater's blend of movie programming that, like all of the Drafthouse's theaters, will feature a mix of first-run mainstream films with some independent titles, classic movie screenings and special programming like singalong and "quote-along" shows. Wallace says the Las Colinas theater will also host a John Carpenter Retrospective in May as part of the Texas Frightmare Weekend.
The new Drafthouse can hold up to 712 customers in all seven of its theaters. Theater seating capacity ranges from 28 to 151. The Vetted Well bar and restaurant overlooks the outdoor music area in the center of the Toyota Music Factory complex and includes an outdoor patio. Wallace and DiGaetano say they plan to work to create special events with some of the surrounding entertainment businesses.
Builders copied the seat layout from the movie theater's Cedars branch on South Lamar Street in Dallas. Theaters have luxury recliners, tables that allow for easy seat access and footrests for guests sitting in the front row, which DiGaetano says is the theater's way of saying "sorry for having to sit in the front row."
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Wallace says these touches are about conveying the company's passion for films and the moviegoing experience.
"In the '70s and '80s, there was this idea that where you saw the movie was as important as the movie you were seeing," he says. "Even though they were general cinemas, they felt like these sacred and holy places, and in some cases, they were, especially like with the old Cinema Palaces that were still going. They felt like churches. As the megaplex came in, you lost that vibe, and they became much more sterile and generic and cookie cutter, and they didn't feel special. They didn't feel unique in any way, and we're trying to bring that back."
DiGaetano says says that making each theater memorable and a key component of the neighborhood and audiences it serves is more important than having the most theaters in any market.
"I very much look at these theaters as a reflection of me. I've been going to the Alamo since 2001 when I lived in Austin, so this has been my theater of choice since I was 21 years old," DiGaetano says. "I've cared about the brand and how it feels, and even when all of the ownership gets together, none of them talk about growing. That happens organically. We talk about how do we stay true to our roots, how do we stay a movie theater for movie lovers by movie lovers."