Palo Alto's Aquarius Theatre to reopen

Opening weekend features 'Stanford Prison Experiment,' free popcorn

After more than three months of closure for remodeling, downtown Palo Alto's Aquarius Theatre, at 430 Emerson St., will reopen this Friday, July 24. Built in 1969 and operated by Landmark Theatres since 1985, the theater closed on March 30 for significant renovations, including the addition of larger screens; luxury leather seats and recliners; a new sound system, acoustics and lighting; updated bathrooms; a new marquee and a restructured lobby including a concession stand serving gourmet hot treats like sweet potato fries and Gouda macaroni-and-cheese bites.

"We have applied for a liquor license, and will be serving beer and wine hopefully within a month or two," said Landmark Theatres President Ted Mundorff in a phone interview earlier this week.

Mundorff explained that the lease on the space had been set to expire, and Landmark had considered whether or not they should stay.

"We've been in the market for a long time," he said. "We did not want to leave it. I just thought, 'If we had an opportunity to build a new theater in Palo Alto, we would do that, so why not renovate the one we have?'"

According to Mundorff, the Aquarius will feel like a brand new theater. Among the perks of the new space is the option of advanced reserved seating. Regular patrons can expect the cost of a ticket to be slightly higher, he said, explaining, "Ticket prices will come in somewhere between Redwood City and Mountain View." General admission tickets will now be $12, up from $10 before the renovation. Senior, child, student and bargain matinee tickets will be $9.50.

The Aquarius remains a twin cinema with an emphasis on independent and foreign language films.

On Thursday, July 23, the Aquarius will host a free open house 6:30-9 p.m. Members of the community are welcome to check out the new space, enjoy free popcorn and soda and stay for a screening of The Marx Brothers' 1933 film, "Duck Soup."

On Friday, July 24, the theater officially reopens with two films: a digitally restored version of Carol Reed's 1949 film noir, "The Third Man," starring Orson Welles, and "The Stanford Prison Experiment," a psychological thriller based on a famous psychology experiment conducted in 1971 by Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo. Following the Saturday 7:10 p.m. screening, Zimbardo and director Kyle Patrick Alvarez will conduct a Q&A session. Between July 24 and 30, "The Stanford Prison Experiment" will screen daily at 1, 4 and 7:10 p.m., with evening screenings at 10:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9:55 p.m. all other nights. "The Third Man" will screen daily at 2, 4:30, 7:20 and 9:45 p.m.

In celebration of the theater's reopening, admission to all films shown Friday, July 24, through Sunday, July 26, will include free popcorn.

Mundorff, who plans to attend the Thursday evening open house, encouraged members of the community to come out for the event.

"We would like people to come see for themselves what we've done and what they can expect," he said.

For more information, go to or

Related story: Palo Alto's Aquarius Theatre closes for remodel

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3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2015 at 10:07 am

A 20% increase is not what we would call "slightly higher", especially for families.

7 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2015 at 10:37 am

Gethin is a registered user.

I am looking forward to going to the new Aquarius. It used to be a complete dump, and the Guild still is. The ticket price is a bit high but probably worth it to have a good experience.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2015 at 10:46 am

I have been to the Aquarius to see movies that are not available elsewhere. These hard to find movies are either here or at Palo Alto Square. I much prefer the Square as parking is no problem. Anytime I have tried the Aquarius parking has been a big problem. When thinking of lunch and a movie, it is hard to park. When thinking of Friday evening for a movie, it is hard to park. I am not a fussy parker, but I would like an app or electronic sign that shows me which lots have space before I drive around in circles looking for a space in a lot or a garage. BTW I am not planning to walk or ride a bike home late at night, particularly in (rainy?) winter evenings.

We were meant to get some electronic signage for parking downtown. What happened?????

In this technological mecca center, why do we not have technology to help us park?

4 people like this
Posted by bill1940
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 23, 2015 at 10:51 am

Cool! Like many others, my wife and I have been going to this theater since it opened, and really look forward to enjoying a film in this renovated space. And, $9.50 for seniors is a reasonable price.

5 people like this
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2015 at 11:25 am

The new Aquarius looks great. I've always appreciated the Aquarius for bringing independent films to Palo Alto. Based on the pictures shared in this article, the prices appear to be justified. Since this theater has never really been a mainstream house, I wouldn't expect it to be priced for whole family groups but more for teens and adults.

7 people like this
Posted by Movie Lover in Palo Alto
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 23, 2015 at 11:48 am

Thank you Aquarius! I am so looking forward to my next movie there! And thank you to Landmark Theaters for investing in Palo Alto. You are greatly appreciated! There is not much good news around these days, but this certainly is!

4 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 23, 2015 at 11:50 am

Hope they have drones to drop them in front of the theater since parking is already about as bad as it could be.

6 people like this
Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 23, 2015 at 11:56 am

Excellent news. Another reason to head to downtown. That theater had uncomfortable seats and small screens. Makes sense they have to raise the prices to pay for the remodel. Can't wait to visit.

5 people like this
Posted by Carla
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Carla is a registered user.

Great!!! I stopped going because it was not very nice. But they play great films.

3 people like this
Posted by Hooray! we love the Aquarius
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 23, 2015 at 2:23 pm

This is great news. We love the films at the Aquarius! We never have trouble parking. We bike there from south Palo Alto. 25 minutes of leisurely pedaling down Bryant Street Bike Boulevard. Easy peasy, lovely summer night bike ride. (But ALWAYS light your bike with at least the legal minimum of a head light and rear reflector. It's smart to wear reflective gear when you bike at night too.)

It's a great way for a couple of old geezers to enjoy a date night. :-)

2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Looks great.

This NEW Aquarius has never looked better, even when it was all one big theater. I'm really looking forward to seeing some new movies there ... I hope someone, somewhere will be making good movie, there's been a drought lately, or good movies.

Please, waste no time with the Guild. Great job.

2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 23, 2015 at 4:29 pm

YEAH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I love going to the Aquarius - it was funky but part of it's charm. Can't wait to see the new version. Now can we please get another Barnes and Noble bookstore? I go up to the one in San Mateo and it filled up in the back coffee area. Yummy food and coffee drinks, great books, other great Stuff that readers really like. A giant bookstore that serves food is a magnet for people.

Like this comment
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Resident 1-- we cannot have a new Barnes and nobles in Palma,too. They are a chain store and chain stores are evil. Haven't you been following our misguided councils attempts to ignore the free market in Palo Alto.
BTW, how do you get to,San Mateo? Do you fly air France?

Like this comment
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 23, 2015 at 6:20 pm


Theatrical exhibition has changed. There are so many opportunities to see films (old and new) that exhibitors must offer something more, and an "experience" or "event" approach has proven successful in many places.

Examples of successes are the ArcLight in Hollywood, the Kabuki in SFO, and Alamo Drafthouse in Texas (and soon SFO).

Like this comment
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2015 at 6:22 pm

Robert-- you can add the century 16 in mountain view. They recently added reclining seats in all auditoriums and have applied for a liquor license.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 23, 2015 at 7:04 pm


Perhaps about Century 16 but I haven't visited it yet.

Century hasn't really gotten the vibe of this trend yet I think but they have figured out that it is there.

Part of the trend is also localizing the experience, making the experience something that appeals to people in the community. Until now, you can walk into a Century multiplex anyplace in the country and not notice the difference, the same carpet and theming on the walls. Ditto AMC and Regal. All of them program design, program, and operate their theatres by formula out of central offices.

A good new example of this trend is Landmark's Embarcadero Center in SFO. The recent renovation really works for me.

Like this comment
Posted by Bobw
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 23, 2015 at 9:32 pm

We're looking forward to independent films at the new theater, but I don't understand the need for alcohol at the theater. (I share the concern expressed by others about the parking).

2 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 23, 2015 at 10:03 pm


You ask why alcohol is needed.

For many decades, the profit a theatre makes is totally on the concessions. The house will actually lose money on just the admissions after overhead and film rental is paid.

The theater owner can also control the concessions. It is about the only lever he can pull.

Like restaurants, alcohol has huge margins in theaters.

Given the pressures that exhibition has, we can expect more theaters to add alcohol. In fact, it is only the laws that are stopping it right now.

People, myself included, like to have a little libation while watching a film. More importantly, we are ready to pay for it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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