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Market Square, Madison’s discerning budget movie theater, reopens

The five-screen budget theater on Madison’s west side is now back at full capacity after its closure on March 16, 2020.

The five-screen budget theater on Madison’s west side is now back at full capacity after its closure on March 16, 2020.

Photo: A shot at dusk of Silver Cinemas’ main entrance and marquee where a list of movies are “Now Showing” and “The Green Knight” poster is illuminated. Behind the glass of the entrance doors, neon fluorescent lights can be seen hanging above the concession counter where tickets are sold.

After 18 months, Silver Cinemas at Market Square has reopened its doors. The five-screen budget theater, which has been a fixture since 1989 on Madison’s West Side (at 6604 Odana Road #1012, with its main entrance just off South Yellowstone Drive), shuttered last March during widespread lockdowns, and returned this past Friday, September 17.

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Their first week’s lineup includes a varied slate of summer successes and blockbusters alike, from the dark sword and sorcery of The Green Knight, Nic Cage vehicle Pig, family CGI comedy of Boss Baby: Family Business, sobering travel documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, the action-comedy of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, to exploitation thriller Don’t Breathe 2.

In the recent past, movies have found their way to budget or second-run theaters about three months after their initial theatrical premiere dates. But in this new frontier of theatrical distribution that emerged after last year’s lockdowns, that window seems to be shrinking. That is to the benefit of spots like Silver Cinemas, which had been a desirable weekend destination, recalls General Manager Deana Thorson.

Critic and audience favorites of the summer that widely opened between mid-July and mid-August are now showing. The Suicide Squad, which just hit screens (and HBO Max) six weeks ago, has three show times per day, at 1:20 p.m., 4:10 p.m., and 7:10 p.m. Don’t Breathe 2 premiered just five weeks ago, on Friday, August 13, and has one evening show per day, at 7:20 p.m. Next week’s lineup (from September 24 through 30) will see The Green Knight, Pig, and Boss Baby: Family Business returning with new showings of post-apocalyptic horror hit A Quiet Place Part II, M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller Old, and phase four MCU action blockbuster, Black Widow. Ticket prices are set at $4 for either a matinee or evening screening, typically cheaper than any film available for VOD rental.

When eight locations in the Landmark Theaters chain (of which Silver Cinemas is a subsidiary) began to reopen again nationally late last August, management expressed concern about the viability of booking screenings the entire week and instead opted for a three-day schedule. “Some of the theaters only opened for the weekend, ’cause they weren’t sure and hadn’t been making money for a while. They didn’t want to fully open [up] until they had some income,” Thorson says. However, given the Madison Silver Cinemas’ delayed reopening date, they have immediately chosen to open at full capacity every day of the week, including upcoming holidays.

Silver Cinemas’ website is currently under construction, so this past week’s show times were revealed via social media before being posted on the website over the weekend. Thorson says there are plans in the works to integrate it into Landmark Theatres’ main site for better visibility. As of the time of writing, however, they remain separate.


A view of one of Silver Cinemas' five theaters from the entrance. This one is currently showing Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

A view of one of Silver Cinemas’ five theaters from the entrance. This one is currently showing Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

In August of 2019, Rob Thomas of The Capital Times reported that Silver Cinemas was making an effort to bring in more independent feature films for a first run. “There are times when we played an indie movie here that hadn’t played anywhere [else] in Madison before,” Thorson says. One of the theater’s biggest successes that summer was Joe Talbot’s Last Black Man In San Francisco. After speaking with her district manager in the last couple weeks, Thorson confirms the theater will continue its conscious effort to make such films part of regular programming. It’s the mixture of indie and mainstream families, something the former Sundance Cinemas once touted, that defines this local theater’s vision. That is altogether evident in its first selections after reopening.

For those concerned about event safety during these times where public health is of utmost importance, Silver Cinemas is abiding by Dane County mask mandates. It also has the advantage of spreading people out over its larger theaters, all of which contain at least 200 seats. Since most of the first-run theaters in the area were remodeled around 2015 to offer “luxury” recliners, many auditoriums only contain 35 to 50 seats that are typically arranged in pairs.

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Additionally, as observed on Silver Cinemas’ reopening flyer, the theater is part of a “Cinema Safe” campaign that Thorson feels strongly about. “We can sort of see where people are sitting and sanitize the seats [in-between shows], as well as frequently touched surfaces. Then we have a deep sanitizing [battery-powered] sprayer that we use at night to sanitize the whole auditorium,” Thorson says.

In terms of special events the theater has been known for in prior years, like Madtown Horror Film Fest, Thorson says staff is again open to hosting when it’s appropriate. She also revealed that, before the pandemic curtailed plans, Silver Cinemas had been in talks to show the film Ginger with co-directors Melissa and Jimmy Boratyn. The film is a dramatized narrative feature of Melissa’s own battle with breast cancer. However, due to the current state of affairs, that is still on hold.

At the forefront of Thorson’s mind, though, is making an effort to spread general awareness of Silver Cinemas, which had been known as Market Square Theatre for many years. Without weekly print adverts, word of mouth is especially critical, especially for anyone who may have just moved to town. Public interest is also entangled with who they employ. As Silver Cinemas steadies its schedule after reopening, the theater is looking to hire floor staff to assist with ticket purchases (which cannot be made online), concessions, and cleaning. Like their old school ticketing system, paper applications are handled in person only.

Thorson expresses a sincere gratitude in her personal reflections over the past year and a half without her theater in operation and open to the public. “It’s been a long, bumpy ride, but we’re thrilled to welcome everyone back,” she says.


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