There’s something about an evening at the cinema that simply cannot be re-created with Netflix. Imagine grand picture palaces with their ruby red velvet curtains and gold ceiling arches and compact theatres lit up with neon signboards. From London to Madrid, Brisbane to Jaipur, theatres play as big of a role as movies themselves to transport viewers to wondrous, make-believe worlds, and many of these have survived despite the changing times. Here are 10 you need to visit.
Electric Cinema, London
When this cinema opened on Portobello Road in 1910, the first movie screened was a 20-minute silent film, Henry VIII. Since then, this Notting Hill cinema with a red neon-lit sign has survived tumultuous times, including a transition from the silent era to sound, competition from picture palaces and a time when the neighbourhood was so rundown the cinema was nicknamed the “bughouse”. Now owned by the Soho House group, the Electric Cinema has been restored and is a lovely place to cosy up with a cashmere blanket on a leather armchair and order a cocktail from the cinema’s in-house waiters.
Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres, Toronto
The stacked theatres – the Winter Garden Theatre sits atop the Elgin Theatre – debuted in 1913 for vaudeville performances and enjoyed a good 15 years of splendour before shutting for over 50 years. After a brief stint of showing softcore porn in the 1970s, the theatres reopened and are as grand as they were during their early years. People come for the Winter Garden theatre, which is a botanical fairy tale where dried plants and flowers cascade down from the auditorium’s ceiling and painted trees envelop the arched stage.
Raj Mandir Theatre, Jaipur
Opened in 1976, the Raj Mandir is iconic in many ways – firstly, it’s cotton candy pink and meringue-shaped which makes it easy to spot and secondly, it’s known as the place to go in Jaipur to catch the latest Bollywood flick. The owner, the jeweller Shri Mehtab chandra Golcha, envisaged a cinema fit for royalty and the interior is indeed regal, with high ceilings, ornate chandeliers and an impressive lighting system that envelops the entire 1,300-seater theatre.
The Castro Theatre, San Francisco
Like many grand projects, this one began humbly, when, in 1907, the Nasser brothers converted their family’s candy-making factory into a makeshift theatre by projecting movies on a wall. Soon, a cinema was built, and talkies installed. The cream-façade theatre became a mainstay of San Francisco’s Castro District. For decades, it has hosted sing-a-longs and comedy acts, but the Castro Theatre is most beloved for its screening of noir movies and for hosting the Noir City Film Festival.
Cineteca Matadero, Madrid
It’s hard to fathom that Cineteca Matadero was a livestock market for almost a century, until the Madrid City Council converted the slaughterhouses into an arts centre in 1996. The centre has two cinemas with futuristic light tunnels designed by Spanish architects Churtichaga + Quadra-Salcedo to appear as glowing baskets, a film studio and archive and a sun-drenched terrace for outdoor screenings; the centre’s vast outdoor space also hosts music festivals.
Regent Theatre, Brisbane
At this historical theatre in Australia’s sunshine state, it’s more La La Land and less rustic outback. When the Regent Theatre opened in 1929 as Queensland’s first American-style picture palace, its red velvet curtains and ornate gold ceilings replete with intricate design patterns channelled the Golden Age of Hollywood. Like many grand theatres, however, the Regent fell out of favour and underwent major renovations in the 1970s and again in the 2010s. It recently re-opened with auditoriums that bring back old school glamour.
Museum Lichtspiele, Munich
This pint-sized Munich cinema holds a record in the Guinness World Records for the greatest number of consecutive screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Built over a century ago on the site of an old variety theatre, Museum Lichtspiele’s four small screens – each auditorium has no more than 100 seats – play cult classics, art-house and blockbusters in the original language. Moreover, each room is decorated to fit the theme of the movie, for instance, a large starship accompanied the screening of Star Trek.
The interior of the brilliantly named Gartenbaukino hasn’t changed much since its 1960 opening in the Austrian capital where looking up at the ceiling is like getting sucked into a 3D cubist painting with overlapping red, maroon and gold rectangles. Movies played here are diverse and run the gamut of art-house, classics, documentaries, Hollywood films and of course, Austrian films. The Gartenbaukino also hosts the Vienna International Film Festival, better known as Viennale, in autumn.
- Cine Thisio, Athens
For some, the first trip to the beach marks the start of summer, but for film buffs, it’s watching a mystery film under the stars when Athens’ open-air cinemas open for the season. Cine Thisio is a rooftop theatre that’s been luring movie-goers with its view of the Acropolis and screenings of Alfred Hitchcock films since it opened in 1935. Besides Hitchcock, Cine Thisio screens other classics as well as new European and Hollywood movies, though many also come from the munchies. The theatre’s cheese pie and tsipouro, or un-aged brandy, are said to be superb.
- Puskin Cinema, Budapest
A visit to Puskin Cinema is like being sent back to an era where watching a movie was an absolute luxury. Many Art Deco design features from the original 1926 cinema remain, and it’s hard not to be charmed by the tall ruby red pillars and elaborate interlacing gold arches that make up the ceiling. Fittingly, Puskin screens mostly art-house and some indie films – forget about watching the latest blockbusters here – though it also has events for children.