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12 unusual ways to watch films in London

The city's best film clubs and alternative cinemas – showing everything from sci-fi to arthouse movies

By Kate Lloyd

The capital’s full of ways to watch movies. There are loads of mega multiplexes and bougie hipster spots with posh sofas and deluxe food, and they're great. But here we're saluting the lesser know film spots in our city. Think cool film clubs and alt cinemas: from sci-fi specials to cuddly pop ups and arthouse hotspots to a film club celebrating crap movies. Some even cost less than a fiver. 

The cosy one

Cinemas Film club Camberwell

Tucked away under railway arches, Whirled Cinema is a hidden delight. This Brixton 60-seater delivers the best in recent indie/arthouse offerings (think hyped documentary ‘Generation Wealth’) along with comfy leather sofas, pizza and a resident mixologist – the house mai tai will enliven the third hour of that Ukrainian yak documentary. Niftily, your Oyster card also doubles as your membership card. It’s half cinema, half speakeasy, and a winter warmer for the geekily inclined.

The educational one

Cinemas Independent Kensal Rise

‘I am a cinema. Love me’ is plastered across the outside of  The Lexi and it couldn’t be more apt. The UK’s first ‘social enterprise independent boutique digital cinema’ (phew!) is a fixture of the Kensal community, offering indie/subtitled efforts , the smarter end of the blockbusters (Ryan Gosling movie ‘First Man’, is screening now) plus live theatre, opera, kids’ clubs and screenings for carers with babies. It also runs the Lexi Film School where a must-see movie screening is hosted by a critic. 


The one that’s totally out of this world

Satisfy your inner Sheldon Cooper with Science Fiction Theatre. Last month’s programme of fantastic sci-fi cinema was at the Institute of Light in Hackney. The intelligently curated line-up runs the gamut from the cerebral (‘Upstream Colour’) to monsters-trashing-shit (‘Godzilla’) plus every screening comes with a pre-film talk to add context and in-the-bar discussion points. Nerdgasm guaranteed. 

The one for purists

One of the only UK film clubs to project 16mm prints of movies on the original celluloid, Ciné-Real is a beautiful, nostalgic blast from the past. With film projection a dying art, the joy of Ciné-Real is watching classic films how they were meant to be seen with grain and dust and flicker and love. It’s the cinematic equivalent of listening to vinyl and it’s wonderful.


The pub one

3 out of 5 stars
Bars and pubs Gastropubs Mitcham

Plenty of pubs screen movies in London, but it’s the Gorringe Park Pub in Tooting which really proves that cinemas and boozers are a match made in slightly intoxicated heaven. It’s one sweet set-up: surround-sound and old-school cinema seats. Screenings are daily, with matinees for the kiddies and adult fare such as ‘Scarface’ and ‘The Shining’ in the evenings. And the great audio means you won’t hear time called at the bar during that third-act twist.

The arthouse one

Cinemas Deptford

A community-run project, the 40-seater Deptford Cinema provides monthly treats for the discerning filmgoer. The programme is curated as seasons (in October look out for Spike Lee joints and cult flicks at Sci-Fi Sundays), festivals and special events. Output can be challenging (it’s an Adam Sandler-free zone) but films such as the Francis Bacon biopic ‘Love Is the Devil’ will reward the curious.


The one for masochists

4 out of 5 stars
Nightlife Late-night bars Shoreditch

There are bad films and then there are the films shown at Crap Film Club, which is run out of The Book Club in Shoreditch. It’s a haven for bargain-bin fodder – films with titles like ‘Samurai Cop’, ‘Lady Terminator’ and a title that translates as ‘Turkish Star Wars’ (which really  has to be seen to be believed). All such films are embraced by a non-judgmental crowd.  All pleasure, no guilt. 

Olivia Rawes

The cuddly one

Cinemas Walthamstow

Stow Film Lounge is the greatest thing to happen in E17 since Brian Harvey ran over himself after eating too many potatoes. It operates out of various venues in Walthamstow but wherever it’s based, it’s a warm hug of a movie club. The films shown are mostly populist (but good) while the mood is friendly and infectious – it’s like a film club run by Paddington.


The Bollywood one

Cinemas Harrow

Want to catch a just-released Bollywood film? Harrow’s Safari Cinema is the place to go. The cinema specialises in Bollywood movies, with a packed line up of the latest offerings . Choose from two screens kitted out with state-of-the-art sound and luxury furnishings. With prices starting at just £4, it really is something to sing and dance about.

The historic one

Ealing fizzes with movie history. It’s got its own film studio and was the home of evergreen comedy ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’, among others. So it’s no surprise the area now has a film club. Classic Cinema Club amplifies Ealing’s silver-screen connection, showing oldies (John Ford’s landmark western ‘Stagecoach’) and hidden gems (1999 French film ‘Beau Travail’) at Ealing Town Hall. Lively post-film discussions keep up the filmic fervour.

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