The rebirth of Midnight Movies at the Dundee Theater


James Knowles

The Dundee theater has hosted a lot of history, but nothing has left a legacy quite like Midnight Movies. Photo courtesy of Andrew Smith/The Gateway.

The Dundee Theater is a historic place, having been in operation for longer than the vast majority of its patrons have been alive, yet it has always been most famous for its “Midnight Movies”—a tradition that spanned many years, given life by feverish community support. From 2001 to 2013, the theater showed fan-favorite films on a weekly basis, from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to “Princess Bride.”

The series’ enduring popularity could only do so much, though, and when a brief hiatus for much-needed renovations to the theater transformed into an indefinite closing, hope seemed lost for the tradition. However, after years with no progress, the theater was purchased and drastically renovated by Film Streams, a local non-profit dedicated to film. As the theater was resuscitated, so too did the demand for Midnight Movies spring back to life.

There had been both brief and extended runs of Midnight Movies before, but it wasn’t until 2001 that the tradition really kicked off. The theater’s youthful staff had heavy input into the types of films that would play, which lead to all sorts of classics gracing the screen—“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” became perhaps the most frequent and beloved midnight showing, but many more films had audiences returning for more over the years, like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Pulp Fiction.”

As soon as it was announced that Film Streams would be taking over the Dundee Theater, the resurrection of Midnight Movies quickly became the most prominent line of questioning directed towards the non-profit by devoted fans and patrons.

“One of the first things that we talked about internally was how the theater for almost two decades before it closed in 2013 was synonymous with midnight movies in Omaha,” says Patrick Kinney, Director of Marketing at Film Streams. “It’s something that we as a staff really loved to bring back.”

Dundee’s Midnight Movies of antiquity had developed their own atmosphere—costumes weren’t an infrequent sight, the golden rule of “no talking during the movie” fell by the wayside, and inside jokes were met with enthusiasm. Between all that, the frequent shenanigans that took place and the building itself, there was an inescapable informality to the whole thing.

Film Streams’ revival certainly kept many of the key elements, but some changes were unavoidable.

“We knew that we were never going to be able to catch that lightning in a bottle again—the Midnight Movies under its previous iteration had such a unique vibe, atmosphere and following,” says Kinney. “Obviously knowing that we could never replicate exactly what it was before, it was good to see that it was still able to work in the space that we made it, and really become its own thing.”

The differences between the classic and the new go beyond simply what was lost—much of the programming has expanded beyond the nostalgia for previous decades and genre films that characterized Midnight Movies, while also inherently including films that are outside of Film Streams’ usual art house sensibilities. This combination has created a very unique crowd of attendees.

“It does attract people that are nostalgic for midnight movies, but there’s a new crowd that comes as well,” Kinney says. “Even if they’re the same people who do come on a Sunday afternoon, the mood is just different. It’s its own unique kind of crowd, there’s really nothing else like it.”

As the entire planet shut down due to a certain pandemic, Midnight Movies were once again put on hold. Film Streams has gradually been phasing things back in, but Midnight Movies have yet to make their dramatic return—a return that Kinney assures is still on its way.

“While there may not be a full series in 2021, we hope that there can be some pop up midnights still to come by the end of the year,” Kinney says. “They’re something that we love, they’re such a part of the Dundee, and we don’t want to lose that at all. It’s a priority to make sure that they can come back in a safe and sustainable way.”