BEST OF DAYTON: The Neon, rebounding and rebranding, still going strong

The Neon, a charming downtown Dayton haven for independent film, remains committed to bringing audiences quality movies while embracing community.

Voted Best Movie Theater in this year’s Best of Dayton contest, The Neon recently underwent a rebranding to solidify its mission complete with a new website showcasing its new motto: Cinema. Culture. Community.

“Our website, membership program, reward program and special events will be fantastic tools we think will have generate more enthusiasm for what we do,” said Neon manager Jonathan McNeal.



In addition to implementing trivia nights, The Neon saw momentum this summer in its weekly patio parties hosted by prominent Daytonians such as former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin, Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge and Dayton Art Institute CEO Michael Roediger.

“Our goal was to find people who already support The Neon and get them to engage with their followers to come to The Neon,” McNeal said. “The patio parties created such synergy. Whether people are heading into a movie here or heading out to dinner at one of the restaurants in the Oregon District, the parties created an energy that had been missing.”

The Neon prides itself on providing wonderfully intimate independent fare (the quietly compelling foreign film “Past Lives” was a recent gem), but screening mainstream megahit “Barbie,” directed by Greta Gerwig of such independent films as “Frances Ha” and “Lady Bird,” gave them a chance to reach a wider audience.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

“‘Barbie’ was an opportunity for us to still be mission-driven while being a tool to get people into the theater to see what we do on the daily,” McNeal explained. “We’re not going to play a blockbuster every month, but every now and again being able to utilize a film like ‘Barbie’ to get people here, see our quality customer service, and see our respect for cinema and our interest in telling international, independent stories is important.”

The Neon is also known for presenting a variety of film festivals, including the annual Dayton LGBT Film Festival. This year’s LGBT Film Fest has been rebranded in the hopes of being more welcoming. It has been renamed Out Here Dayton Film Fest and is slated for Oct. 13-15. The opening night film will be “Our Son,” a family drama starring Billy Porter and Luke Evans.

“For the last few years, I’ve been feeling like ‘LGBT’ has been too limiting and not inclusive enough for what we want to achieve,” McNeal said. “The moniker for our community has evolved over the past several years, and we want our name to embrace the entire community. We want our invitation to be wider.”



McNeal admits it was a struggle for The Neon to stay afloat on a daily basis during the coronavirus pandemic, but patronage greatly improved this summer.

“Over the last six weeks in particular we’ve seen a return to the cinema like the multiplexes,” he said. “We’re seeing numbers come back strong and it’s finally been happening thanks to Wes Anderson (‘Asteroid City’) and Greta Gerwig. We are very heartened that we are still on people’s radars, hearts and minds to be the place to see good cinema in town.”

The Neon is located at 130 E. Fifth St., Dayton. For more information, visit

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