Hollywood is a gritty, vibrant, devil-may-care neighbourhood that’s survived more ups and downs than Mickey Rourke’s career. But there’s one thing this hill-flanked hamlet has always done right: movie theatres. From the spooky to the state-of-the-art, this list shares Tinseltown's top five viewing spots for blockbusters, classics and Academy Award winners – just in time for the Oscars on 27 Debruary (full nominee list here).

1. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

Camera-toting tourists arrive here by the busload, unspooling across the theatre’s concrete courtyard in search of the real Hollywood. Within seconds, most look confused. Judy Garland’s tiny footprints are here. The star maps. The wookiee impersonators. But where exactly is the glamour? The magic? Is this all there is?

Nope. Just ask any LA cinephile. Hollywood’s elusive magic is best experienced inside the Chinese Theatre – a bona fide movie palace that opened in 1927 under the direction of Sid Grauman. The renowned showman spared no expense with his darling, filling it with Asian flourishes and Chinese-crafted artefacts. On opening night, the premiere of Cecil B DeMille’s The Kings of Kings – a biblical extravaganza – drew thousands to Hollywood Boulevard for a glimpse of the stars and the spectacle.

The theatre, remodelled in 2001, is still a top pick for glitzy premieres, but it’s also a first-run theatre open to the public. From the red lacquered columns in the lobby to the hand-painted butterflies on the powder room walls to the opening-night chandelier that still hangs in the 1,162-seat auditorium, the spectacle continues. And for the price of a ticket, the “reel” magic of Hollywood awaits.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd. For prices and schedules check www.manntheatres.com/movies.

2. ArcLight Cinemas Hollywood

Ladies and gentleman, please select your film from the destinations board, reserve your desired seat, present your ticket then settle in for what’s never a bumpy ride. The 14-screen ArcLight – whose lobby resembles a cavernous airplane hangar – is a relative newbie for Hollywood, but the state-of-the-art cinema earned bragging rights the moment it opened its doors. Pre-selected seats, curved screens, black box auditoriums – the ArcLight exists for people who care about the movie-going experience.

Prices are a little higher than the norm, and lollygaggers complain about the strict no-entry policy (no admittance after a movie starts), but these are minor quibbles for those seeking full immersion. Some films screen in the groovy 1963 Cinerama Dome, a half-moon, geodesic auditorium upgraded to conform to the theatre’s high standards.

ArcLight Hollywood is located at 6360 W Sunset Blvd. For prices and schedules see www.arclightcinemas.com.

3. The Egyptian Theatre

One surefire way to see a famous actor or director in Hollywood? Attend a screening followed by a live Q&A at Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. These laid-back events are a regular occurrence, and they’re open to the public for the price of the movie. Kirk Douglas, Kathryn Bigelow, and Nicole Kidman are a just a few celluloid luminaries who have appeared to discuss their craft. Classics, retrospectives, new foreign releases, and themed weekends round out the calendar.

The Egyptian was Hollywood’s first movie palace. It opened with the premiere of Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood in 1922, the same year as the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The forecourt – look for the palm trees and the murals of Egyptian gods – is a tranquil spot set back from Hollywood’s hubbub. $5 theatre tours are offered monthly.

Visit http://americancinematheque.com/mastercalendar.htm for the schedule, planned by movie-supporting non-profit American Cinematheque. The theatre is located at 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

4. Hollywood Forever Cemetery

For the past decade, intrepid moviegoers have carried blankets and coolers onto Fairbanks Lawn for Cinespia’s Cemetery Screenings, typically held at sunset on Saturday nights from mid-May through the end of September. The movies, which included High Noon, Midnight Cowboy and Airplane! The Movie in 2010, are splashed across Cathedral Mausoleum, the final resting place of Rudolf Valentino and Peter Lorre. Elsewhere on the grounds are the graves of Bugsy Siegel, Douglas Fairbanks, and Cecil B. DeMille.

Picnics and alcohol are welcome, pets and tall chairs are not. Admission is free but a $10 donation is requested. Cinespia, a local production company, uses the proceeds for restoration projects at the cemetery.

As spring approaches, check www.cinespia.org for the schedule. The address is 6000 Santa Monica Blvd.

5. El Capitan Theatre

Who’s vying for screen time at the majestic El Capitan in 2011? Little mermaids, rascally gnomes, African cats, and the beloved Jack Sparrow. Tucked behind a dazzling marquee, the historic El Capitan shows first-run Disney movies in an ornate, East-Indian-themed auditorium. For families, the 1000-seat theatre is a welcome respite from the touts and celebrity impersonators clogging nearby sidewalks. Step inside the lobby for an exhibit tracing the history of the 1926 theatre (originally a playhouse) and Hollywood, from citrus orchards to its legendary status today.

Daily screenings are often accompanied by a Wurlitzer organ and live-action shows. Next door, Disney’s Soda Fountain and Studio Store serves sandwiches, sundaes, and dreams.

Birthday parties welcome; see www.elcapitan.go.com/index.html. The address is 6838 Hollywood Blvd.

Explore related stories