I really miss going to the movie theater. Why? Three words: movie theater popcorn.
Even though there are still a few movie theaters open around the country at the time of this writing, I’m eager for the day where I can freely go to the cinema and enjoy a movie. There’s just something magical about the movie theater experience. Perhaps it’s the amazing sound systems and comfy recliner chairs, or maybe it’s the experience of watching a movie with a bunch of random strangers and enjoying a collective emotion together.
However, the best part about going to the movie theater is getting to smell and taste that fresh buttery popcorn. Now, I’m not going to pretend to know what cinemas put in that popcorn that makes it so good, but it’s so addictive and delicious. And as a kid who used to go to the movie theater every weekend with his dad (who happily participated in the testing of this assignment), let’s just say I know a thing or two about movie theater popcorn.
In the absence of going to the movies, or for those times when you just want to stay in for a movie night, microwave popcorn is a great alternative. So, for the sake of bettering the human race, I took it upon myself to test out 10 of the most popular microwave popcorn brands to rank, once and for all, which ones come close to emulating the sweet, sweet taste of our beloved movie theater popcorn. I gathered all different types of popular microwave popcorn brands, from healthy choices and the self-proclaimed “movie theater popcorn” to all in-betweeners. Hey, it’s a hard job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Without further ado, SPY’s official ranking of the best microwave popcorn brands.
1. Orville Redenbacher’s Movie Theater Butter Gourmet Popping Corn
BEST MOVIE THEATER POPCORN DUPE
This popcorn brand has “movie theater butter” right in the name, so the stakes to properly emulate the concession stand staple are high. And I gotta be honest, it fulfills that wish to the highest degree. If you’re looking for that buttery popcorn favorite that perfectly imitates the real thing and you don’t care about calorie counting, this one is hard to beat. The brand claims to use only real ingredients, plus it’s gluten-free.
2. Act II Xtreme Butter
BEST WITH EXTRA BUTTER
Now it’s important to note that Act II offers a few butter options, and this “Xtreme Butter” indeed lives up to its name. This one is for those people who ask for extra butter on their popcorn. Surprisingly, it only comes in at 160 calories per serving, which, given its highly potent buttery taste, is a win.
3. Jolly Time Blast-O-Butter Popcorn
The Jolly Time Blast-O-Butter provides a blast of rich yet not-too-overpowering buttery taste, which nicely compliments the airy popped kernels. The package promises no artificial preservatives, flavors or dyes, which, in turn, crafts an authentic popcorn experience. At 160 calories per serving, this isn’t the lowest-calorie option, but it’s a decent buttery treat for that caloric-range.
4. SkinnyPop Popcorn Butter
BEST HEALTHY MICROWAVE POPCORN
SkinnyPop definitely lives up to its name. As a glance at the side of the box reveals, this microwave popcorn is non-GMO, gluten-free, peanut-free, preservative-free, and has zero trans fats, among other things. As I suspected here, the popcorn doesn’t lean too heavy on the butter taste and it’s the best offering in calories and saturated fats, so if you’re looking for a health-conscious option, you couldn’t ask for much more. Plus, this one earns bonus points for being the only brand that offers up “chemical-free” microwave popcorn bags.
5. Act II Movie Butter Lovers
It’s hard to tell the difference between Act II Movie Butter Lovers and Act II Xtreme Butter, but if my tastebuds had to decipher it, I’d say that Act II Butter Lovers is a notch down in the butter department when compared to its “Xtreme” sibling. And that can be a good or bad thing depending on your butter preference. Not to mention, the calories come in at 140 per serving, which is 20 calories less than Xtreme Butter.
6. Pop Secret Homestyle Butter
For just an honest *hint* of butter, Pop Secret Homestyle Butter comes in clutch. At 130 calories per bag, Pop Secret Homestyle Butter microwave popcorn is probably as close to a “healthy diet popcorn” as you’ll get without actually diving into the more obvious healthy microwave popcorn brands. Honestly, there’s not much of a butter taste here. Don’t fret, though. It’s still there.
7. Great Value Extra Butter Popcorn
The Walmart brand Great Value offers up a lite and airy alternative that isn’t too heavy on the butter taste. It serves up zero trans fat per serving, which is a plus for the waistline. Not to mention, a 24-pack comes at quite a bargain price.
8. Skinnygirl Butter & Sea Salt Popcorn
Believe it or not, Skinnygirl isn’t the lowest calorie option on the list, nor is it the lowest option in the saturated fat department. As you might suspect for a “healthier option,” the taste of butter isn’t as potent as some of the others, but it’s still there. And the sea salt combination is a nice touch for those that hit up the salt dispenser at the movie theater.
9. Market Pantry Butter Microwave Popcorn
MOST UNIQUE BUTTER
Target’s in-house brand, Market Pantry, supplies a microwave popcorn that features a real-butter taste. No, really. It tastes like the popcorn was seasoned with an actual stick of butter. But, hey, that’s not necessarily an awful thing. If you prefer less of a movie theater butter popcorn taste and favor something slightly more authentic, then this might be the option for you.
10. Boom Chica Pop Real Butter Microwave Popcorn
BEST FOR THE SEASONING-OBSESSED
I have to say, at 170 calories per serving and 5 grams of fat, I thought I’d really taste the butter here. But I was sorely mistaken. There is, however, a plus side to everything, and if you’re looking for microwave popcorn that serves more as a plain slate that would work amazing with some seasonings of your choice, this is the place to start.