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World War P: Which Minneapolis Theater Wins the Popcorn Wars?

Four theaters. Lots of shit talking. One definitive taste test.

9:22 AM CDT on June 30, 2023

Photos by Sophie Nikitas; background via Unsplash

Last Saturday, ahead of Taylor Swift’s second evening in Minneapolis, I informed my boyfriend that I had something much more exciting than tickets to the biggest concert event of the year: I had an assignment from Racket to determine which of the four feuding movie theaters actually boasts the best popcorn in town.

Provided; Reddit | Clockwise from upper-left: The Lagoon; The Main Cinema; The Riverview.

The plan was to bike to each of the theaters, sample their popcorn on-site, then bring ‘em all home for a side-by-side taste test. My BF enthusiastically agreed, and suggested we also bike by U.S. Bank Stadium with shirts that read “Joe Alwyn Was Right.” Was he trying to get us killed? We agreed to ride in normal clothing.

Our rules:

  • No toppings. Each popcorn had to be experienced in its purest form. 
  • The first few bites must be eaten inside the theater. Because vibes.  
  • No movies! We didn’t want our enjoyment (or lack thereof) of four consecutive movies spanning 360 minutes to affect opinions of the product. Our approach, instead, was to watch the ol’ reliable Magic Mike in my living room once every bucket had been obtained. 

The Main Cinema

After a beautiful ride through downtown, across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, and along Main Street, we arrived at The Main Cinema. The Main might be the theater I attend the most, usually for the Arab Film Festival and MinnAnimate. Unfortunately, it was clear from the first bite that The Main’s popcorn was stale. This was a Saturday night—how can a movie theater not have its freshest, top-performing popcorn on the (ostensibly) biggest night of the week? Texturally, it summoned the sensation of chewing on packing peanuts. It also was a little too salty, which was a shocking conclusion for me, a person who eats Maldon salt as a snack.

Price: $4 for a small
Rating: 5 out of 10

The Riverview

Next, we crossed the Stone Arch Bridge (great sunset view, almost ran over seven sorority girls), and biked down West River Parkway to The Riverview. The Riverview, famously, subsisted solely on popcorn sales in the early days of the pandemic. We’re happy to report that it remains business-saving-good. Right off the bat, I loved the level of crunch, and the perfect balance of salt. While we did not get butter on top, there was clearly a little butter in the mix, and that really helped solidify our enjoyment.

Price: $2 for a small
Rating: 9 out of 10

The Trylon

It was a quick, pleasant ride east on 38th Street and up Minnehaha Avenue to get to The Trylon. Despite the theater attendant’s confusion when I asked for popcorn with no movie ticket, I secured the bucket. The Trylon’s popcorn was an interesting and subtle experience; the first bite of each kernel tasted quite neutral, but then the salty flavor came up slowly. I liked the journey! Understated and elegant. (Although I did not, per the rules above, use any toppings, The Trylon gets a bonus point for having za’atar as an option.)

After eating a few bites, however, we started to wonder: Is this actually just the same popcorn as at The Main? It was much fresher, but the kernels were the exact same color and size, and it came in the same container. Look, I know most popcorn is kind of the same, but something about it was uncannily similar, and I am very much interested in spreading this no-stakes conspiracy theory. Please @ me if the truth is out there and you know it. 

Price: $3 for a small
Rating: 7 out of 10

The Lagoon

The drama queen that started it all! In another dramatic move, the doors were closed by the time we arrived around 9:45 p.m., so we returned the following afternoon. After I recovered from the shock of being asked to pay $8.10 for a small bag of popcorn, I did somewhat enjoy The Lagoon’s offering. Similar to The Trylon, it was popped with butter (or, more likely, a butter substitute), and it also featured a strong crunch factor. However, the flavor was pretty uneven—some super salty kernels, some bland ones. That, combined with the price, put this popcorn squarely in the middle. 

Price: $8.10??? For a small???
Rating: 6 out of 10

Winner: The Riverview

The Riverview is just the best and we all know it. Absolute respect to the other theaters, you all tried—but this level of quality at that price point can’t be beat. 

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