Rewatching “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
January 20th, 2015
Share story

The line of people waiting to get into the historic Tennessee Theatre wrapped around the building and down the block. But despite the long and dwindling chances of getting a seat inside the majestic theater the people were happy and chipper. Warmly dressed, a few with hot chocolate in their hands, they eagerly awaited the moment they would enter the theater and find a seat to watch the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Fortunately for me, I had an inside person to sneak me in through a side door. Okay, okay. She didn’t sneak me in. But I was the first person to be seated inside the gorgeous theater so I could watch my favorite Christmas movie. But just in case this isn’t your favorite, be sure to check out the Tennessee Theatre’s schedule because they show a few different Christmas movies each year.

Note: This story is a part of the Christmas in Knoxville series of blog posts.

Disclosure: This travel blog story was made possible because I was hosted free of charge by Visit Knoxville. This in no way influenced the content of my blog posts, and Visit Knoxville did not receive an advance copy or editor privileges to anything I have written here.

People line up around the corner, some of them waiting over ninety minutes, for a chance to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" at the historic Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, TN on Sunday, December 14, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

The line wrapped around the side of the building and down about a block, and this was ninety minutes before the film started. Moral of the story: get there early.

Getting There

The first and most important thing to know about the Christmas movie events at the Tennessee Theatre is that they’re free. That is the most important thing to know because admission is based on a first-come, first-seated basis. That could be problematic, or you could consider it part of the adventure.

The doors to the Tennessee Theatre open an hour before the showing time. The theater seats about 1,600 people so it takes awhile to get inside, find a seat, and get settled before the movie begins. But it also means you need to arrive much earlier to guarantee a seat.

When I approached the front entrance on Gay Street about 90 minutes before the show time I noticed the line wrapping around the side of the building. That’s when I realized there were already a couple hundred people standing in the line. I asked a lady near the front of the line how early she had arrived to get in line. “I got here about two hours early,” she happily replied.

The historic Tennessee Theatre, decorated for Christmas, shortly before the doors opened to allow visitors to seat themselves in Knoxville, TN on Sunday, December 14, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

The beautiful architecture, charming Christmas decor, and comfortable plush seats sure made it an evening I would never forget.

The Historic Tennessee Theatre

Fortunately I was being hosted by Visit Knoxville so I had a way to “sneak” in. But really I just walked in the front door because I was allowed. This was my first time visiting the historic theater so I wanted some time ahead of the crowd to explore it.

The Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928 and was widely considered one of the most beautiful theaters in the South. It was originally designed as a movie house featuring films for just 60 cents per person.

In 1996 the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation was created and tasked with preserving and operating the historic theater. From 2003-2005 the building underwent a massive $22.5 million renovation, reopening on January 15, 2005 as a world-class performing arts center.

I figured the best view for the movie would be from the second story seating. From this vantage point I could really admire the intricate architecture of the domed ceiling and get a sense of the size of the building. The seats were plush and comfortable, the spacing just right, and the view amazing. I found what I felt was the best seat in the house (left side of the balcony, front row, almost over top of the aisle below) and settled in for the movie.

The lights dim just as the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life", begins at the historic Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, TN on Sunday, December 14, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, in the original black-and-white, plays every year at the historic Tennessee Theatre.

It’s a Wonderful Life

The 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie, especially now that I have been to Seneca Falls, New York and learned the true story that inspired this movie. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey learned a valuable lesson around the age-old saying, “Be careful what you wish for,” in the charming black-and-white dramedy. Who could ever forget the line, “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”

The doors to the Tennessee Theatre opened and the extremely long line of eager visitors began to trickle inside. The aisle seats went first and were soon followed by the second story balcony. Families separate at the door found each other via shouting and whistling and early arrivals began shuffling seats to make everyone in their group fit together. There’s a reason the doors open an hour early.

There was some entertainment on the stage to help pass the time, but soon enough the lights dimmed and the curtains opened to reveal the movie screen. It was almost difficult to keep my attention on the movie while sitting inside the gorgeous theater. Almost difficult. Five minutes after the credits rolled I was whisked away and reliving the adventures of George Bailey in Bedford Falls.

Pin this article! Follow me on Pinterest for more travel inspiration.

Leave A Comment