Raleigh’s beloved Rialto Theatre sets closing date and final films, at least for now

·4 min read

The Rialto Theatre’s marquee — the one with the ever-revolving list of movie titles — won’t be changed again for awhile.

The historic theater, one of the Triangle’s longest-running independent movie theaters, is temporarily closing after its owner, Bill Peebles, announced his retirement from owning and running the beloved Raleigh staple.

The Rialto Theatre announced this week its final slate of films before closing its doors, a mix of recent releases and the classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

But they won’t be the last to appear on the Five Points theater’s screen, Peebles assured fans in an Instagram post on the Rialto Theatre account. The Rialto is expected to “resume operations in the near future” and specialize in art and independent films, as well as special events.

Peebles, who announced his retirement earlier this month, cited his retirement and market conditions for the temporary suspension of operations. He also explained how there is “a hole in available product now hitting cinemas nationwide” due to the pandemic, affecting the movies that can be shown at the Rialto.

“While the country was shut down for the Pandemic, so was Hollywood,” he wrote.

He previously told The News & Observer that the future of the theater wasn’t clear during the process of finding new owners.

Tuesday, he told The N&O that he still didn’t have a timeline for a transfer of ownership, but hoped the Rialto would have new owners by the end of the year.

He is excited about the Rialto’s future, which he hopes will improve upon what he’s done to make the theater, which launched in the 1970s, into what it is today.

“What’s going on is we’re interviewing several groups of people and we’re trying to pick out people who have the best ideas,” said Peebles in a phone interview. “I fully expect the renovation of the cosmetic appearance (of the theater) to change ... and it will take more than one day. It will be less than six months. It might be two weeks, it might be two months.”

The marquee of the closed Rialto Theater on Glenwood Avenue displays a message during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in N.C. Saturday night, March 21, 2020.
The marquee of the closed Rialto Theater on Glenwood Avenue displays a message during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in N.C. Saturday night, March 21, 2020.

Rialto showing films before closure

Longtime and recent patrons of the Rialto will have an opportunity to experience the last shows at the theater under its original owner.

On Friday, the Rialto will show “Mrs. Harris Goes to Harris” until Wednesday, Aug. 24. The Rialto will show the documentaries “Fire of Love” and the “Sons of Mezcal” on Aug. 25.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” will be screened three times on Aug. 26. Peebles said it’s appropriate that the last scene in the legendary musical-comedy-horror film — traditionally shown in theaters with live-action actors — takes place in an old theater.

The “Shadow” cast of actors, which has performed at the theater for decades, will perform at all three “Rocky Horror” showings at 7 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight.

The three showings will bring out all generations of Rocky Horror fans, he says. “You have the Rocky kids at midnight, you have their parents at 10 p.m. and then you have their parents at 7 p.m.”

Peebles recalled his longtime motto during decades of hosting “Rocky Horror” showings, which were attended for years by different generations of youth.

“I can’t save the world but we can keep 125 kids off the streets at night,” he said.

The Rialto will also host a laser show on the evening of Aug. 27. Peebles said he has avoided putting on the show because it means he can’t screen other films in the same theater that day. But now it’s finally the right time.

The multicolor laser show, in which the air will be hazed and “painted” with lasers and projected images, is something he’s wanted to do for a long time, he said.

“The final marquee change” of the Glenwood Avenue establishment will be on Aug. 28 at 1 p.m.

Peebles said he would sell the rights to Rialto’s management to either “a person or a group of people who can operate the theater moving forward.”

Peebles said it would only be sold to someone with knowledge of marketing, the movie theater industry and live entertainment, instead of a “wishful thinker.”

“Retiring is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make, but I know it is time,” wrote Peebles, who ran the theatre for 32 years. “I will truly miss our wonderful staff and fiercely loyal patrons. See ya at the movies.”