Current owner and operator of the Terrace Theater Paul Brown purchased the movie theater in 2010 | Photos by Ruta Smith

Happy Birthday, Terrace Theater

 The No. 1 movie in the country on Sept. 12, 1997, was The Game, a thriller directed by David Fincher and starring Michael Douglas. While The Game was dominating the domestic movie landscape, a brand new theater in Charleston was screening a 1996 comedy, Love Serenade. That was opening day for the Terrace Theater on James Island.

Love Serenade was the first film to screen at the Terrace Theater back in 1997

Twenty-five years later, the Terrace Theater stands proudly as the oldest-operating locally owned movie theater in Charleston. It serves as the centerpiece of a vibrant James Island community that bears little resemblance to the place Amy Marzluff, current manager at the Terrace and daughter of original Terrace owner Marcie Marzluff, remembers growing up.

The building was a Red & White grocery store before the Marzluffs converted it into a single-screen theater. At the time, James Island was missing much of the familiar elements it has today. There were few houses, restaurants and other attractions. Now the Terrace shares a packed parking lot with popular spots like Paddock & Whisky, Crust and Bar George. 

Its popularity continues to grow. Terrace Theater is on one of the best runs it has ever had, said Paul Brown, current owner and operator of the Terrace. The theater has seen lines out the door, as audiences return following the pandemic.

“It’s not just that it’s 25 years surviving. It’s 25 years of this amazing journey,” Brown said. He bought the theater in 2010, making him the third owner since its inception following Marcie Marzluff and Michael Furlinger, who bought the Terrace in 2007.

Top Gun: Maverick, the highest grossing film in 2022 so far, has kept the Terrace packed with moviegoers as showtimes continue to sell out. It unseated the theater’s previous top sales leaders: 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding and 1997’s The Wings of the Dove, the first big hit at the fledgling theater.

The success of such a massive blockbuster at the traditionally indie-focused Terrace highlights one of the many shifts in the theater’s 25 year history. 

Paul and Robin Brown are ready to lead the Terrace into the next 25 years

“When the theater first started, it was solely small independent movies,” Brown said. “But the marketplace has changed. Yes, we try to still do 50% to 60% independent films, but the pickings are slimmer. And so we’re now mixing those smaller movies with the big budget movies.” 

It’s this change in philosophy that has seen the Terrace become the home for the latest Marvel tentpole, the current A24 flicks and the small foreign films that fly under the radar. The theater truly has a slate for everybody.

Revisiting the classics

In celebration of its anniversary, the Terrace is bringing a new wave of classic movies. 

Throughout September, the theater is screening select major movies of yesteryear for $5, the original price of tickets in 1997.

Some of the retro flicks hitting the Terrace’s screen this month include: the first Indiana Jones adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark, Wes Anderson’s cult classic Rushmore and the acclaimed Three Colors trilogy.

Amy Marzluff said she feels a particular connection to one of the anniversary screenings: Cinema Paradiso. Marzluff spent much of her youth in the theater, or playing in the plaza with the children of other business owners. She has worked off and on at the Terrace since 2007, most recently as a manager, but got her start there at a very early age.

“We did play [Cinema Paradiso] here back in the 1990s, and that was actually the first movie I ever threaded in a projector,” Marzluff said. “The manager here at the time really liked me. She taught me to do some projection stuff, and that was the first movie I threaded by myself.”

Some recent renovations mean audiences entering the building this September will notice updated bathrooms, as well as a custom-made carpet designed to mimic the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining

On Sept. 12, the theater’s official anniversary day, everything at the Terrace will be half-priced, including tickets and concessions. The Terrace will also hold a raffle drawing, with the winner receiving a one-year free movie pass. Proceeds from the raffle will benefit Walk to End Alzheimer’s and the Alzheimer’s Association, a cause that is very close to home for Marzluff and the Terrace family. She said her mother, Marcie, is currently in hospice, suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Her mother’s condition has made the anniversary bittersweet for Amy, but she draws strength from the legacy of the Terrace.

 “We’ve been here for 25 years, and it’s always really awesome to hear from people how much they love the theater,” she said. “To hear how they had their first date here, or how their husband proposed after they saw a movie here, or how they have all these awesome memories here. I get to think: ‘Oh, that’s something my mom built that has made so many people happy.’ So that’s a consolation.”

Looking to the future

But what’s next for the Terrace? 

According to Brown, the theater already experimented with some changes that it wanted to try, like the shift to a drive-in during the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean he’s sitting idle. The answers may lie in its past.

“I miss a little bit of the mixed media,” Brown said. In the theater’s earliest days, it hosted live theater performances by the former Charleston Guerilla Theatre Company.

“I’d love to get more performance art combined with the theater experience,” he said. 

Brown also points to their recent Rocky Horror shadowcast performances as the kind of events he’d love to do more often. He also wants to put a bigger focus on educational aspects for children who dream of working in the business. 

A sight from yesteryear: the Terrace Theater projection room after a film reel mishap | Provided

Marzluff and Brown said they want to see more retro and classic movies come through the Terrace. Seeing a continued dedication to current indie and blockbuster films while also screening older films is a big deal for the team at the Terrace. But for Brown, the future continues to be working with the community and improving the moviegoing experience.

Marzluff said she feels whatever the future holds, she’ll be a part of it.

“Paul is a great owner,” she said. “I think he’s the only person who cares about this place more than I do.”

Surviving the pandemic and evolving over the last 25 years has Brown excited for the future.

“I feel assured. I feel confident in the future of our business. I feel confident in who we are as a business,” he said. “One of the things the last couple years have taught us is the connection between small business and its patrons. If it’s personalized, if the experience feels unique, different and exciting, it’s gonna thrive. And I think that’s sort of what’s happening with us.”

For a full schedule of the Terrace Theater’s anniversary flicks, visit terracetheater.com.


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