The Best Movie Theater Popcorn, Ranked (And How You Can Make Your Own)
Popcorn's association with the movies took off during the Great Depression, when the buttery kernels remained an affordable luxury for a budget-conscious nation. Today, the salty snack still rules the concessions stand, but not all bags are created equal. We reviewed and ranked the popcorn at America's top movie-theater chains and provided a few quick tips on how you can make your own movie theater popcorn at home.
7. Regal Entertainment Group
There's a surprising secret ingredient in Regal's popcorn: coconut oil. The rich, fatty substance helps give their kernels a signature, savory flavor, and it gives you (relative) peace of mind that you're doing some semi-healthy snacking and not going for full-on butter. We won't make any guarantees about not missing the real thing, though.
6. AMC Theatres
Like Regal before it, AMC also uses coconut oil in its popcorn. What gives it the nod, however, is customization. AMC customers can pump their own buttery topping (not real butter, but a substance derived from soybean oil) onto their popcorn after grabbing a bag at the counter. Another plus? Buying a large tub also gets you a free refill.
5. Cinemark Theatres
Cinemark edges ahead of AMC and Regal because it pops its corn in canola oil, which is nonhydrogenated and (relatively) lower in fat than other oils. Plus, anyone who makes stovetop popcorn at home can tell you it's the canola oil, not the butter, that gives popcorn its signature savory taste.
4. Landmark Theatres
Known for promoting independent and foreign films, Landmark Theatres also extends an appreciation for variety through its snack selection. The popcorn is topped with real butter, and you don't have to pay extra to add Kernel Season's flavor salts—a pricey staple at nearly every megaplex.
3. ShowPlace ICON Theater
The ShowPlace/Kerasotes chain fronted the movement to make movie-going a luxury experience by carving out a VIP section at their ICON theaters and serving high-end cocktails. Their gourmet bacon popcorn, made with smoked-bacon-infused butter and tossed with crispy chunks of pork, gets an easy thumbs-up from meat lovers.
2. ArcLight Cinemas
Though typically consumed in front of the silver screen, ArcLight's popcorn is the only snack on this list to have graced the small screen. The California chain's caramel corn, which is served in plastic cups to reduce the rustling sound created by bags, got a nod on the Food Network series The Best Thing I Ever Ate. And if you're in Chicago, DC, or San Diego, you're in luck: the chain has recently expanded to all three markets.
1. Alamo Drafthouse
The Drafthouse is legendary for enforcing a strict etiquette policy for movie-goers. It turns out the Austin-based chain takes its concessions just as seriously, snagging the bragging rights to having the best popcorn of any theater in the country. During films, a silent wait staff covertly delivers bottomless popcorn in a classic steel bowl, flavored with real butter and served with a side of herbed parmesan.
How to Make Movie-Theater Popcorn at Home
Grab your own popcorn machine.
Because a home theater's not a home theater without one, right?
Use coconut oil.
There's a reason AMC and Regal both use it. It helps give popcorn an extra layer of flavor (it won't taste like actual coconut), whereas something like canola oil won't.
Skip the butter—sort of.
Instead of just microwaving the stick butter in your fridge and pouring it on your popcorn, clarify it instead. This helps give the kernels a nice coating without making them soggy. Making it is pretty simple: microwave a couple sticks of butter until they're melted. Let it sit until three distinct layers form. Get rid of the top foamy layer, pour the middle layer onto your kernels, and toss the bottom layer.
Add the real secret ingredient of movie theater popcorn.
It can only be found online, but if you're willing, get a carton of Flavacol sent to your place. Flavacol is a powdery, seasoned-salt-like mixture that helps give movie popcorn its distinct color, smell, and flavor. Toss in a small amount (this stuff is potent) to your oil when you're heating it up.