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Cromarty Cinema 120320 Exteriors
Photograph: Ruth Clark

The peculiar beauty of the world’s most remote cinemas

Twenty eerily awesome cinemas at the end of the world

Written by
Phil de Semlyen
&
Matthew Singer
Contributors
Stephen A Russell
,
Emma Steen
&
Chiara Wilkinson
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You know the feeling when you step out of a film screening and, for a brief moment, it seems like you’re stepping out of a fictional world and into real life? What if you could prolong that magical feeling for just a little bit longer? Cinemas don’t always need to be another part of the grey fabric of a city, they can also be in some genuinely cinematic – and properly remote – locations. Don’t believe us? Here are the world’s most isolated picture houses for film buffs and adventurers alike.  

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Cinemas at the end of the world

Rebel Cinema, Cornwall

On the off chance that you get showers on your trip to Cornwall, The Rebel could be the rainy-day answer you need. A no-frills cinema that feels like stepping ‘into a time machine’, it has two screens as well as tickets and snacks which are so decently priced, you’ll never want to buy that £5.99 packet of Maltesers at your local chain ever again.

The Callicoon Theatre, New York State

Built in 1948, the Callicoon is one of the last remaining cinemas designed in the half-cylinder ‘quonset hut’ style, made popular after World War II as rural American military outposts were converted into civic buildings. The interior feels equally frozen in time, with art deco light fixtures, an antique popcorn machine and an old-school lamphouse projector on display in the lobby. At 350 seats, the theatre can hold roughly 12 percent of the population of Callicoon, the small mountain town in which it resides, making it something of a community hub. That quality is reflected in a homespun snack menu, which includes homemade cherry sodas, chocolate egg creams (a kind of carbonated ice-cream float) and locally-sourced popcorn.

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Katuaq, Greenland

This cultural centre in the Greenland capital of Nuuk isn’t just a cinema – its distinctive L-shaped building hosts gigs, plays and conferences too – but it is a place of pilgrimage for local movielovers. After all, this 2 million square kilometre landmass isn’t exactly swimming in multiplexes. Backdropped by the snowcapped peak of Sermitsiaq and clad in golden larch wood, it’s one of the most striking places on the planet to watch a movie. Avatar: The Way of Water packed in 6000 cinemagoers in December 2022, but even that couldn’t match the 8000 tickets sold to Greenlandic horror movie Alanngut Killinganni. They like to keep it local in this corner of the Labrador Sea.

Sun Pictures Gardens, Western Australia

Established early last century by the Yamasaki family, Japanese business entrepreneurs investing in boom town Broome, the Sun Pictures Gardens cinema is the longest serving of its type worldwide, as recognised by the Guinness World Records, starting with silent movies. Nestled where the Dampier Creek meets the Indian Ocean in Western Australia’s astounding beautiful Kimberley region in the far north-western corner of the country, this partially open-air temple was regularly flooded by tides until a levee was built in the ‘70s. One of the most remote cinemas in the world, you wouldn’t know it from the crowded cavalcade of contemporary blockbusters playing every night. And while the talkies now run on digital, you can pay your respects to every retired film projector, proudly on display as a tribute to their time in the Sun.

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Taseralik Culture Center, Greenland

Fancy skiing to the movies? Try Greenland’s multi-purpose arts centre, Taseralik, which serves as a cinema, theatre, concert venue, exhibition space and starting point for a brutally tough ski challenge called the Arctic Circle Race (hence all the flags). As a cinema, it caters to all tastes, with concessions selling popcorn and a fancy café serving up trout salads and plates of Greenlandish specialities, while the 258-seat auditorium offers the latest Hollywood hits to cine-hungry locals. Located in Sisimiut, Greenland’s second city, it’s so remote that you can’t even fly there from overseas. If you do make it, this cultural hub offers a toasty haven in the Arctic Circle.

West Side Cinema, Scotland

If you really want to push the boat out – literally – head up to West Side Cinema in the Orkney town of Stromness, also known as the ‘cinema on the edge of the world’. This community-run cinema in a converted church building has cabaret-style table seating to create a proper intimate vibe, as well as a ‘bring your own’ policy for food and drink, which is often shared between audience members. Sitting on the waterfont, cinema settings just don’t get any more picturesque. 

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The Bicknell Theater, Utah

By some estimations, Bicknell is the smallest town in the United States with an operating movie theatre. That’s a hard one to fact check, but there’s no denying that the place is tiny – the most recent census puts the population at 323. Somehow, its namesake cinema has managed to stay in business for almost 80 years. (For 25 of those years, it even hosted an international film festival.) It’s changed hands and undergone several upgrades in that time, even adding a second screen a few years ago. But it maintains the same unique ‘industrial-pueblo’ look it’s had from the beginning – a stylish oasis in the middle of nowhere.

Island Theatre Megi, Japan

Despite its small size and population of just 200 residents, Japan's southwestern island of Megajima still has a local cinema. Well, sort of. Island Theatre Megi is a site-specific art installation by Yoichiro Yoda, who created this vintage theatre from an old warehouse in 2016. It is one of many permanent exhibits that comprise Setouchi’s art island initiative, but this is the only place in the region where you catch a Charlie Chaplin flick. Yoda's charming vision of an old-school New York cinema makes it well worth the ferry journey from the mainland, but bear in mind that the theatre is usually only open during festival season.

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Patricia Theatre, British Columbia

Owned and operated by a local film society, Canada’s oldest movie theatre resides in the isolated former mill town of Powell River along the coast of British Columbia, serving the ferries full of tourists who arrive for a weekend of hiking, boating, camping and John Wick 4. First built in 1913, the original Patricia Theatre was replaced in 1928 by its current incarnation, which remains one of the only examples of Spanish Revival architecture in the entire country. Its interior is rarer still: one of Canada’s few surviving ‘atmospheric theatres,’ in which large portraits of the town’s titular river (accented by wandering peacocks) and other accoutrements give the sense of watching a film outdoors.

Cromarty Community Cinema, Scotland

Perched at the northern tip of the Black Isle, itself nestled on the edge of Scotland’s Highlands, is this almost miraculous not-for-profit cinema. Run by volunteers and with a single 35-seat screen, it’s thriving because of its remote location – Cromarty is a town of only 750 souls – rather than in spite of it. ‘We opened in 2020 and despite our appalling timing, we’ve been extremely lucky with really high audience support from across the Highlands,’ says cinema trustee Tanya Karlebach. ‘We are unreasonably proud of the cinema.’ And rightly so: here, you can live miles from a city (okay, 15 miles from Inverness), spot the local dolphins or wander the idyllic hinterland by day, and still settle down to Avatar: The Way of Water by night. Oh, and it even has its own film festival.

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Avoca Beach Theatre, New South Wales

For the one of the best double features in Australia, why not stroll out of a movie in a lushly appointed red velvet 280-seat cinema replete with a chandelier, then dash across the sand and dip straight into the surf? That’s the remarkable offering at the Avoca Beach Theatre in the seaside village of the same name on the NSW Central Coast. It started off as a backyard cinema in 1948, set up by siblings Mervyn and Norman Hunter not long after World War II, and has steadily grown over the years into the much-loved indoor picture palace and live music venue it is today. And guess what? It’s still run by the Hunter family. Now that is a family business worth splashing out on.

The Park Theatre, Manitoba

Three hours from Winnipeg, Clear Lake’s Park Theatre is probably what a cinema in Twin Peaks would look like: a log cabin in the vast wilderness that is Riding Mountain National Park – a place where you can watch The Revenant and feel like you’re in it all at the same time. The structure was built by eight Scandinavians and completed in 1937 using peeled logs and iron bracings. They did a solid job, because the 500-seat cinema still packs them nearly 86 years later. The original exposed beams, rafters and seating remain, though the 12K digital projector and 7.1 Surround Sound give it all a 21st century sheen.

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Coober Pedy Drive-in Theatre, South Australia

Way up north of South Australia on the way to the Northern Territory, the pockmarked landscape of Coober Pedy, once the opal mining capital of the world, makes it look kinda like the 1902 silent movie A Trip to the Moon. Australian classics including Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert were filmed here, right up to Warwick Thornton’s vampire show Firebite and Ivan Sen’s Berlinale competition nominee Limbo. Which makes it the ideal spot to visit one of the country’s oldest screens, the Coober Pedy Drive-in Theatre. In (almost) continuous operation under the stars since 1965, it still plays a pre-movie message to patrons, often miners, not to turn off their phones, but to refrain from bringing explosives with them in their boots. Goodness knows there are enough eruptions from the nearby Woomera missile testing range.

Oliver Theatre, Canada

Despite its modest size, the town of Oliver in rural British Columbia has several claims to fame: it’s known as both the ‘Wine Capital of Canada’ and the ‘Home of the Cantaloupe,’ and once held the record for baking the world’s largest cherry pie. Its crown jewel, however, might be the Oliver Theatre. Certainly, it sticks out like one, exploding off Main Street with its pink-and-purple paint job. Opened in 1947, the building looks like it’s hardly aged, with posters, film reels and other vintage bric-à-brac dating back to the cinema’s midcentury glory years lining the walls. Like the town itself, the Oliver is humble but has had its own brushes with fame over the years – Nicolas Cage reportedly took in a screening while shooting forgotten sci-fi flick The Humanity Bureau in the area.

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The Rustic Theatre, California

Tucked away in California’s San Jacinto Mountains, this charming picturehouse sits nestled among the cedars and tall pines of a national park best known otherwise for its climbing and hiking. The Rustic Theater has been here since 1952, keeping the small town of Idyllwild in the latest Hollywood fare, even as Hollywood stars have moved in and out of the area (Sean Connery once owned a house close by). Graham Sutherland, who co-owns the cinema with his wife Gail, puts its longevity down to keeping ticket prices low for its audience of mostly thirty to sixtysomething locals and bringing personal touches to the theatre. What better place to catch Tom Cruise’s latest daredevil antics?

Mareel, Scotland

Visiting the UK’s most northerly cinema – on the same latitude as Helsinki – feels like an adventure in itself. Seals, otters, even the odd killer whale have been spotted through its quayside windows. Mareel is the Shetland word for phosphorescence, and you can sometimes spot it flickering on the sea outside too. But even they’re not enough to pull focus from the swish two-screen cinema and arts centre inside. This movie outpost in the small Shetland town of Lerwick somehow combines the buzz of cultural vibrancy with a haunting sensation of being right at the end of the world. What better place to discover a new film – or just watch Local Hero again?

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Lynton Cinema, Devon

Can a cinema be any more picturesque? Quirky and characterful, this old converted Methodist chapel in the coastal village of Lynton in Devon – the smallest town in England with a full-time cinema – feels a bit like a time capsule, taking you back to a time of Pathé newsreels, Ealing comedies and the once-romantic fug of cigarette smoke hanging over the stalls. Not that you’ll find any of those things these days. Instead, you’ll be pulled out of the reverie by the Dolby sound and modernised interior, with a 68-seat screen showing the latest releases to movie-hungry locals and holidayers.

The Gecko, New Zealand

The handiwork of five friends from Motueka at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the ultra-comfy Gecko just celebrated 20 years as one of the smallest boutique cinemas in the world (its second screen has only ten seats). ‘We’re not in it for the money – we still pay ourselves just above minimum wage – but for the love of festival quality cinema,’ says MD Ted Basdevant. Eschewing Hollywood blockbusters, The Gecko instead keeps its predominantly female audience of over-forties in edgier arthouse fare (The Father and Triangle of Sadness have been big post-lockdown hits). If you’re planning a trip to the Abel Tasman National Park, Basdevant and the Gecko crew would love to see you.

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Astro Theatre, Canada 

It’s hard to compete with the aurora borealis, but North America’s northernmost cinema has managed to do well for itself since opening in 1996. Then again, it serves the very definition of a captive audience: located on Baffin Island at the head of Frobisher Bay, the city of Iqaluit (pop. 7429) is only accessible via aircraft – and sometimes boat, depending on ice conditions – and it’s never not cold. ‘People in Iqaluit like to stay in touch with the big world outside,’ says cinema co-owner Ole Gjerstad, ‘and one way is to take in the same movies as their friends in the big cities of southern Canada.’ In addition to major Hollywood releases – which are flown in on digital drives from Montreal – the two-screen theatre also shows movies filmed in the Nunavut territory, which play in both English and the indigenous Inuktitut language.

Discovery Centre Cinema, the Isle of Bute

It may not be the fanciest cinema around, but this cosy spot inside the Isle of Bute visitor information centre has everything you could ever need. With comfy chairs and cheap-as-chips popcorn, it’s basically the perfect place to unwind after a day exploring the island. And how often do you get to say you saw Top Gun: Maverick in a community with a population of less than 10,000? Not a lot, I bet.

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