2020 is already looking to be a pretty incredible year in film – from the return of Daniel Craig as James Bond in No Time to Die to Disney’s latest live-action remake, Mulan. We’ll also see plenty more superhero action with Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Eternals, and Black Widow.
But the film you choose to see is only ever half the experience. Often, it’s the cinema itself that sets the atmosphere for your cinematic viewing, and is usually the make or break in any night out. We wanted to take a look at some of the most interesting and fun cinemas to go to in the UK, the ones have gone above and beyond be it architecture, seating, amenities or the greatest vibe.
1. Picturehouse @ Fact, Liverpool
As the first entry on this list we have the first purpose cultural building in the coastal city of Liverpool, Fact. Since it opened in 2003, it has become the centre of the arts with the Picturehouse cinema offering a huge array of indie, arthouse and mainstream films.
Watch in one of their normal screens, or book a showing in The Box, a boutique screen comprised of 25 double-seated sofas where films, Q&A sessions, cabaret, workshops and more all take place. Grab a drink at The Garden next door before settling in to your film, or giving you a chance to peruse one of their many galleries and exhibitions like the cultural fiend you are.
2. Olympic Studios, London
Having opened as the Byfeld Hall in 1906, Olympic studios has grown and changed over the years, operating as an early cinema and theatre before transforming into a recording studio that catered to the likes of The Beatles, Spice Girls, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Madonna and more. It was even where the film music for The Italian Job, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Picture Show was recorded in 1975.
In 2009, the studio returned to it’s roots and became a cinema once more, outfitting it with the comfiest reclining seats from Norway, sourcing bespoke individual brass tables perfect for your drinks and snacks and lining the whole place in wall-to-wall carpet to make it as cosy and snug as possible. You can even kick back in sofas and loveseats at the back of screen for those wanting to cuddle in, or put your feet up along the front rows with any of their available footstools.
Once you’re as comfortable as possible, be ready for their award-winning Dolby Atmos 3D sound system to drop you right in the action – you’ll almost forget where you are.
3. Mareel, Shetland Islands
Standing on the edge of the North Sea, the Mareel is as much as a piece of art as the films it shows inside. The Scandinavian-like architecture of the cinema casts you back to the days the Norsemen ruled the Shetlands with a minimalistic and clean feel all around.
It’s the UK’s most northerly creative centre (seriously, check it out on a map) and well worth a trip out on the sea just to say you’ve been there. It provides the perfect place to lose yourself to the magic of film, setting the scene with raging oceans and gusting winds.
4. Cameo Picturehouse, Edinburgh
The Cameo in Edinburgh is absolutely dripping with cinematic history and is one of Scotland’s oldest cinemas still in use. It started out as the King’s Cinema in 1914 – with much of the original architecture still remaining – as the first mirrored screen in Scotland, soon becoming outfitted for sound so it should start showing ‘talkies’ in 1930.
In 1940, King’s became The Cameo when Jim Poole took over ownership and it began to showcase a variety of foreign and art house films for nearly forty years before another cinema opened up nearby. Now, The Cameo stands as a protected building in Edinburgh, having been visited by a plethora of huge stars in it’s 100 year history including Danny Boyle, Liam Gallagher, Helena Bonham Carter, John Cusack, Sean Connery, Charlize Theron and many more.
Inside it still maintains that rustic old-timey cinema feel that fanatics lust after, covered in plush red seating and dramatic ceilings and is definitely one for all connoisseurs to visit on a trip to Edinburgh. And if Quentin Tarantino’s opinion means much to you, apparently it’s one of his favourites…
5. Genesis, London
We’ve talked about luxury and comfort a few times already, but Genesis completely steps that offering up. The building itself has been offering entertainment since 1848 when it opened up as a music hall, welcoming in the likes of Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplin in it’s early years.
It’s been operating as a cinema for over a hundred years, now offering a luxury experience in Studio 4 and Studio 5 with huge reclining sofas and armchairs, blankets, footstools and beautiful plush purple walls, recreating the feeling of being snuggled down with a good film at home with the best in mainstream cinema.
6. The Rex, Berkhamsted
The Rex will transport right into the 1930’s with an absolutely gorgeous art-deco proscenium framing the screen and it’s sharp projection, whilst clear sound will ring out all around you as you relax in comfortable and luxurious seating – in fact, the ‘stalls’ are sat in big, red swivel chairs around candlelit tables for that extra atmospheric touch. Every night offers a different film, from mainstream hits to little known movies from around the globe.
A night at The Rex will never be your regular trip to the cinema, it’s an event and experience in and of itself. Dress up a little, grab a wine and a few snack plates and take your seat in the lap of luxury. The best thing yet? It’s not even expensive. Tickets start from just £5 for a matinee and £9.50 for an evening, but showings are liable to sell out so make sure to book ahead.
7. Screen on the Green, London
Named aptly for it’s place of residence on Islington Green, this cinema opened up over 100 years ago and is one of the oldest continuously running cinemas in the country. It’s distinctive feature comes from the neon lit front and huge canopy, setting the scene for that classic old-timey movie vibe that every Instagram feed lusts over. Inside there is just one screen, operating with Sony Digital 4k projectors and Dolby Digital surround sound perfect for immersing you in the story.
8. The Electric Cinema, Birmingham
Claiming to be the UK’s oldest working cinema, The Electric in Birmingham opened in 1909 with its first silent film and has undergone a variety of name changes over the years, becoming The Jacey, The Classic, The Tivoli and more, but ultimately settling on The Electric once more.
The Electric offers a beautiful alternative to the main chain offerings in Birmingham, allowing you to take advantage of a much more pleasant and rustic viewing experience. On the side, The Electric even operates its own film post and production company Electric Flix, which has put out a few thought-provoking pieces including The Last Projectionist, a documentary of the cinema itself.
9. Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle
Designed and built by Dixon Scott, the great uncle to Sir Ridley and Tony Scott, the Tyneside Cinema is part of cinematic royalty in more way than one. It opened in 1937 as a news theatre with an eastern influence art-deco style from Scott’s travelling in the Middle and Far East, still sporting much of its old architecture today.
It’s the last remaining news theatre still in operation, welcoming in almost 500’000 people every year to take part in their diverse programme of film, exhibitions and events as well a whole host of social projects to engage the community, making itself the centre of civic life in the city.
10. The Phoenix Merlin Cinema, Falmouth
Arguably, the Phoenix is the crowning achievement of the Merlin Group, having won the UK Independent Cinema of the Year in 2011 thanks to its 5 screen glory, 3 of which are licensed luxury screens with an array of delicious snacks and drinks available for your movie-going pleasure.
Alternatively, you can head upstairs to their American-style diner to get a full meal before your show. The cinema joins the nearby University’s stellar film department in turning Falmouth into a real hub for film in the South West, putting on excellent new films alongside the rising genre of event cinema.
11. Curzon Soho, London
Curzon have always cinema at the heart of what they do, championing great films for nearly a century and now showcasing them at their 13 exemplary venues across the UK. It’s one of those venues that stands out from the rest, giving true cinema buffs a place to call home.
Their Soho location stems from a legendary film and art house venue on Shaftesbury Avenue, always hosting a variety of premieres, festivals, Q&As with directors, documentary events, special events and more. Hydrate at one of their two bars or in their atmospheric underground lounge where you can peruse historic film posters before heading into one of their three screens for the cutting edge of modern cinema.
12. Great Northern, Manchester
My local cinema and personal favourite, the Great Northern has made always made me feel like I’m in the company of fellow cinema lovers, even after being changed hands from AMC to Odeon.
As you walk in down the arcade aisle, you’re greeted by famous movie quotes decorating the walls from “And don’t call me Shirley” to “The Nightrider. That is his name… the Nightrider.”, “I see dead people”, “Go ahead, make my day.” and more.
Once you venture into the cinema properly, you’re surrounded by a mural of cinema icons like Bruce Lee, Audrey Hepburn and James Dean easing you in the top level of the cinema.
13. Lynton Cinema, Lynton
This teeny little cinema caters to the people of Lynton on the Exmoor coast, making it the smallest town in the country with its own dedicated cinema. It boasts only 68 seats inside the former Methodist Church, now listed as Grade II venue, and what’s probably the best part is that you get there via a funicular – yep, those fun uphill trains. The cinema is well worth a day out to visit if your holidaying on the Dorset coast, making for a wonderfully intimate cinema-viewing experience!
14. The Hippodrome, Bo-ness
Head to Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema to enjoy mainstream movies in classic settings. Last year it won the Best Cinema Experience in the country and prominently features as one of Scotland’s must-visit venues. In fact, Sight & Sound declare “if a cinema could give you a hug, this is what it would feel like” thanks to it’s friendly and warm ambience.
In the Art Deco screen rooms, you can catch the likes of Hollywood blockbusters to vintage films, as well as its Silent Film Festival. The festival not only brings top creative talent to Scotland, but it also hosts fun workshops and pop-up events.
15. Light House, Wolverhampton
The Light House is the Black Country’s only independent cinema, nestled into the wonderfully quaint Victorian Architecture of The Chubb Buildings. A beautiful and ornate glass roof shelters the central atrium earning the Light House its signature name, whilst the venue operates largely as a media and arts centre out to increase the enjoyment and understanding of film in the local community.
16. Glasgow Film Theatre, Glasgow
One of Scotland’s finest and an important part of the Scottish Film Heritage, the Glasgow Film Theatre opened as The Cosmo in 1939 as the first arts cinema in the country and the second purpose built one in the UK. For nearly forty years, the cinema continued to deliver the latest contemporary cinema before it fell on hard times and was forced to close in 1973, which was when the Scottish Film Council stepped in and the bought the cinema out.
A year later, it reopened as the Glasgow Film Theatre and began showcasing both mainstream and indie film. Today it stands as the home for the Glasgow Film Festival, and although the famed Cosmo Cafe has been replaced for a third screen, the atmosphere and true love of great cinema still remains.
17. Corn Exchange, Newbury
We all know that red is the signature colour of those classic old cinema vibes, but the Corn Exchange is separating itself from the crowd with a sophisticated purple and blue style inside their 40-seat screen. The mid-19th century building lies at the heart of Newbury, outfitted with a thriving Kitchen & Bar, Outdoor Arts Creation space and a Learning Centre, there to help the local community get involved with the arts and a variety of creative activities.
The cinema space offers a sleek and comfortable alternative to your usual suspects, with plenty of showings of the trending films as well as a huge array of world cinema and British Blockbusters. Its even the location of a famous on stage punch-up between members of The Who after some of them turned up later, leaving drummer Keith Moon with a broken ankle and black eye…
18. HOME, Manchester
A testimony to arts in the North, HOME offers the best of local arts centres. With 5 screens, gallery, cafe, bar, bookshop and more, HOME covers all bases and continues to welcome a huge variety of international and homegrown shows.
It came to be after some of the city’s most beloved arts organisations – Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company – merged in 2015, now acting as a hub of arts in the community with plenty of opportunities to take part and a huge array of great independent film.
19. Regent Street Cinema, London
For a cinema that has a long reputation of first, the Regent Street Cinema is the last of our list. It originally opened in 1848 as repertory cinema with 187 seats, soon becoming home to the first screening of moving footage in the UK as well as the first to show an X-Rated film with La Vie Commence Demain in 1951 due to its war imagery.
In 1980, the cinema closed and was used largely as a lecture theatre by the University of Westminster, but in 2012 they kickstarted a campaign to restore the building, backed by celebrities like Sandi Toksvig and Asif Kapadia.
The features of the building’s 1920 art-deco style were largely retained, including the 1936 John Compton organ and the dome-like ceiling and it can screen in 16 mm, 35 mm, Super 8 and 4K, making it one of the only cinemas in the UK that show films that have archived for many, many years.
20. Barn Cinema, Devon
This stunning cinema is situated in the historic 15th century building. Part of Dartington Hall, it’s surrounded by the estate that offers beautiful surroundings for various outdoor cinema and special events.
Inside the Barn Cinema, film lovers can enjoy a year-round programme of mainstream, independent and world cinema for all ages. There’s also occasional screenings of events from the likes of the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and Royal Ballet, and the British Museum.