Finding Home in a Dollar Theater


Haley Herzberg

Westwood Cinemas 8’s unique theatre hallway. Photo courtesy of Amusement and Parks Omaha.

Ever since I was a young child, I have absolutely loved movies. My parents love to remind me that at one of my first movies, Rugrats in Paris, I stood up on my booster seat to be sure I could see every detail of the screen. As I grew older and began to have to pay for myself, I realized just how expensive a trip to the movies can be. At a Marcus Theater, a movie ticket, large popcorn, and a large soda costs a total of $25.07. Being a college student who works part-time, this is not a feasible way to consistently spend leisure time. And even if I could save up to see a movie I was looking forward to, oftentimes work and school schedules make it impossible to catch it before it leaves theaters. Luckily, the solution to all of those problems is only a fifteen-minute drive from UNO.

Westwood Cinemas 8, which is located at 2809 South 125th Avenue in Omaha, is one of the few remaining dollar theaters in the city. According to their website, they are “an independent, family-owned venue.” They also note that they are an “intermediate house,” meaning they receive movies after they have left the main theater. A movie ticket at Westwood after 4 pm costs $3.25, which is a stark difference from the Marcus Theater price of $11.14. Their concessions are value-priced as well, making them a great alternative to a full priced theater. In addition to the lower prices, Westwood is very unique in the way that they have decorated the main lobby.

To walk into Westwood Cinemas 8 is to be transported into another time. The ceiling above the concessions stand is shining gold, with a chandelier to match. The lighting is reminiscent of an arcade (which Westwood also happens to have in the corner of the lobby), with bright lights and colors wherever you look. The most fascinating decoration, especially to me when I would come to Westwood as a younger child, is the walls of the theatre hallway. They are covered in green LED lights that flash and move horizontally, encouraging you to move farther down the hall. When I walk down that hallway, I imagine I am being sent off in a rocket ship, with the sounds of other movies only adding to that feeling. Westwood has felt like a home away from home for as long as I can remember, and I have spent as much time there as I could ever since I found it. I have made sure to mention Westwood to any friends that are even remotely interested in movies, because I want to share the joy I’ve felt there (and have someone to come watch a movie with me). Even though my younger self couldn’t picture a better place in the world than Westwood, there are some unavoidable differences between it and a Marcus theater.

When walking to your seat at Westwood, your shoes will most likely stick to the ground. Because of this, anyone taking a bathroom break during the movie will cause a particularly loud interruption in the form of a large rubber squeak. When taking a trip to the restroom, you may notice carvings and sharpie messages written on the stalls. These range from declarations of love to different iterations of the “Cool S.” When ordering a drink, your options are limited to soda or water, unlike the alcoholic drinks you may enjoy at a Marcus theater. Westwood’s chairs are also noticeably less comfortable, with no footrests and the backs only reclining a few inches. They are also rather narrow, which makes it a bit more difficult for people with wider hips (like myself) to get comfortable. Despite all of this, I still love Westwood with my whole heart. I can look past these shortcomings easily, especially given the price difference.

Westwood has its own sign facing Center Street, promoting the movies that are currently being shown. After our regular trips to Half Price Bookstore, I would look at the sign and beg my mom to go see one of the many movies available. She would always agree, sending me in with enough money to get a ticket and a hotdog. I even spent Thanksgiving there in 2013, as they had one last showing for a movie I just had to see. It has been sad to not be able to visit Westwood this year, as COVID has made any outside ventures nerve-wracking. However, according to their Facebook page, they have taken significant precautions against the virus. Their last update states that they are at twenty-five percent capacity, with protective shields, alternating row seating, hand sanitizer stations, and temperature checks for all employees.

When I’m able to return, I will be happily blinded by those green-tinted hallway lights. Low rumbles and muttering will leak out of the cracks in those doors as I pass, their vibrations shaking my feet as if to urge me forward. When I find the number that matches my ticket, the sudden silence will spring my own thoughts to the forefront. I will pick a seat at random out of the hundred waiting to be filled and stare at the large screen that takes up the wall in front of me. The stress and fear of the last few years will fade into the background, masked by the sense of calm that comes with those sticky floors and booming speakers. Until then, I will make do with the tiny screen of my phone and wait, not quite patiently, for the moment when I can finally come back home.