Many highlight the drama to promote their causes. "Hollywood studios could force a historic Chicagoland movie theater to close! Movie lovers can help save the Catlow," reads a dire warning from the owner of a theater in Barrington, Ill.
The message worked. The 85-year-old theater last July raised $175,395 from 1,394 donors to buy new audio and digital equipment.
In fact, most of the movie theater fundraisers have been successful, says Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter.
"The ability to keep these theaters open and alive and ingrained as part of their community is something that people are happy to do," Strickler said.
Some of the success stories have been in Southern California, including the Silent Movie Theater in the Fairfax District. Operated by the nonprofit Cinefamily, the theater raised $158,541 for renovations and new equipment. "Iron Man" star Robert Downey Jr. kicked in more than $60,000 toward a new digital projector.
"It was very moving and kind of a coming of age for us to get this level of support," said Hadrian Belove, executive director of Cinefamily, which screens independent and specialty films.
Don and Suzi Schaffert bought the Rio in 1993. Don, a retired firefighter who grew up in the Bay Area, recalls watching westerns with his dad at the Rio when he was 5.
"When Don and I celebrated our 15th anniversary I told him, 'We have never gone to the movies,'" said Suzi Schaffert. "He said, 'I'm going to buy you a movie theater and that way you can go to the movies every single night.'"
The Schafferts breathed new life into the dilapidated theater. They installed a new Christie film projector and hired local artists to paint murals tracing the history of West Sonoma County on the walls of the corrugated steel structure.
They also charmed locals with their personal touch — handing out blankets to patrons on cold nights, showing slides of their world travels during the pre-show, hosting annual Easter egg hunts and listing birthdays and anniversaries of customers on the marquee.
Helped by $5 to $7 ticket prices, the Rio flourished until about two years ago, when film prints became more expensive and the Rio had to wait up to six weeks before it could get first-run films.
The Schafferts temporarily shut down the theater late last year and have since had only occasional screenings, including a recent showing of Francis Ford Coppola's 1986 comedy "Peggy Sue Got Married."
The community rallied when word went out of the Rio's impending demise.
Lucia Kasulis, a waste water treatment plant operator who lives in nearby Guerneville, pledged $1,000 to the Rio. "It's worth it to me," she said. "People know who you are when you come here."
Michele Perussina, whose grandparents bought a home in the area in 1915, recalls first visiting the Rio as a child to watch Hitchcock's "The Birds."
"We were scared to walk home at night because we were afraid the birds might fly over from Bodega Bay and attack us," she said. "If this theater closes it would be a huge blow to Monte Rio and the history of this town."
But now the Rio's future may be secure. With only a few days to go before the expiration of its Kickstarter campaign, the Rio had passed its goal of $60,000 and raised $63,993 from 458 donors as of Friday afternoon.
"It's amazing," Suzi Schaffert says of the successful campaign. "It shows they want us to stay."