The essential guide to filmgoing in London

Hate popcorn? Like to drink wine in the cinema? Need Bollywood? Love short films? We present Time Out’s essential guide to London filmgoing in 2009 as the capital sees a whole host of changes

Where are London's cheapest cinema seats?

If you’re a member (which costs £10 a year), weekday afternoon seats at the Prince Charles go for as little as £1.50, and even at peak times they’re never more than £4. The Roxy Bar & Screen often shows triple bills for as little as £3, and keep an eye out for free screenings at Whirled Art and The Birkbeck Cinema. Lots of cinemas do cut-price days (usually Monday or Tuesday), and Time Out readers can see films at the BFI Southbank every Tuesday for a fiver. The ICA runs a ‘Happy Mondays’ promotion – all tickets to all shows every Monday are just £5.

Where are London's most expensive cinema seats?

London cinemas are notoriously dear, with evening tickets at the Odeon Leicester Square selling at a whopping £19. Upscale cinemas like the Electric and Everyman aren’t much cheaper, with two-person sofas going for as much as £32.

Which London cinemas have the most comfortable seats?

To some cinemagoers, comfort is everything – and they’re prepared to pay up to £30 for the privilege. Take The Electric in Portobello Road, for instance. Nearly every one of its 98 luxurious leather armchairs comes with a foot stool and each is accompanied by a table for holding one’s Champers and minibites bucket. Lovebirds, meanwhile, might wish to take advantage of the two sofas at the back of the auditorium. Big spenders in the north London area will likewise appreciate the Everyman in Hampstead and its newly refurbished stablemate in Belsize Park.

What's London's newest cinema?

London’s newest cinema is The Lexi in Kensal Rise and we’re still awaiting the opening of a luxury cinema at the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush. But several old haunts have had a facelift recently. The Ciné Lumière, part of the Institut Français, will reopened in January 2009 after being closed for six months for refurbishment, while the Screen on the Hill has become the Everyman Belsize Park.

Which London cinemas will be refurbished next?

The Renoir in Bloomsbury has been part of the Curzon chain for a couple of years but largely remains the same as when they acquired it. But watch this space: there’s lots of scope for the Renoir to take advantage of a revitalised Brunswick Centre and the surrounding student population to become a bigger, better, livelier venue – and there are plans afoot. The ICA is also crying out for refit – it launched a fundraising initiative, CinematICA, to achieve that later this year.

Which is London’s smallest screening room?

London’s smallest public screen is BFI Southbank's Studio with just 38 seats, closely followed by 40-seater at the Apollo Piccadilly Circus. Then there's screen two at the ICA (45 seats), and tied fourth are Odeon Mezzanine’s second screen and Empire Leicester Square’s fifth screen, both with 50.

Which London cinema has the biggest screen?

An auditorium’s number of seats usually reflects the size of its screen. The cinema that contradicts this rule is the Odeon’s 1,679-seat flagship in Leicester Square, London’s largest single cinema but not, as many think, the country’s biggest screen. That honour goes to its neighbour, the Empire Leicester Square, which at 18.26 metres by 8.14 metres is almost 70 per cent larger. But, of course, since the advent of IMAX technology, their dedicated theatres traditionally sport 22-metre screens. The BFI IMAX in Waterloo boasts a screen ‘the size of ten double-decker buses’ and measures 26 metres across and 20 metres high.

What’s new at the BFI IMAX?

With the massive success of ‘The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience’ in 2008, BFI IMAX have got a whole new raft of Hollywood releases planned for 2009, including ‘Watchmen’, ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’. Odeon are getting in on the action, with new IMAX cinemas in Greenwich and Wimbledon, with plans to show Formula 1, opera and rock concerts alongside the usual IMAX and 3D releases.

Is 3D where the future’s heading?

Industry leaders agree that new digital 3D technologies will revolutionise viewing in the very near future. The illusion of depth through stereoscopic projection has long been available, with its ‘golden era’ from 1952 to 1955. However, recent developments in computer technology allow for the filming of 3D movies with a single camera (rather than dual) and also with minicam and Steadicams, so bringing the whole process within the realm of more filmmakers. More importantly, those images can now be projected by a single (digital) machine, equipped with sophisticated digital matching devices – admittedly at the cost of a cool £60,000, which may prove too much for some of the smaller or independent venues. Big names preparing for the ‘new cinematic age’ of 3D are James Cameron (naturally) with ‘Avatar’ and Steven Spielberg with his version of the adventures of Hergé’s boy detective-cum-reporter Tintin.

Why are London cinemas now showing opera and sport?

At the end of 2008, the Curzon cinemas in Mayfair, Richmond and Chelsea screened ‘Hänsel und Gretel’ live from the Royal Opera House. This is a burgeoning – and commerically successful – trend. A number of cinemas, including the Gate in Notting Hill, also regularly screen operas from the Met in New York. It may be cheaper than going to the opera in person, but that’s not to say it’s cheap: the Royal Opera House screenings will set you back £20 a ticket.

What other gimmicks are cinemas using to attract punters?

One of 2008’s big trends was the sing-along screening, with ‘Mamma Mia!’ and ‘High School Musical 3’ proving popular. Riverside has also had success with their ‘girls’ night out’ double-bills, showing films like ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’, as well as handing out free bubbly. Other gimmicks include Silent Cinema at Liverpool Street’s Andaz Hotel: for £10 (which includes a free cocktail), you can watch a film free from interfering sounds by donning wireless headphones. Go to for the programme. Before Christmas, it showed ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

What’s the best London cinema for meeting filmmakers?

Many directors pass through the capital on publicity tours – and most will do at least one Q&A en route. Curzon Soho hosts many of these, as do BFI Southbank and the Barbican. Some suburban cinemas host them too. Check listings for cinemas like the Phoenix in Finchley, the Ritzy in Brixton, the Greenwich Picturehouse and the Curzon Richmond. Oh, and prepare an intelligent question or two.

Which London cinemas regularly screen double-bills?

The Prince Charles is running a season of cult double-bills in in 2009 to put their brand-new second screen to use. And, of course, you can head to Riverside whose programme consists almost entirely of double-bills and shows doubles from the likes of Woody Allen, Hitchcock, Kubrick and Lean alongside its line-up of clever film pairings.

Which London cinemas are good for classic films?

Lots of cinemas do classic screenings, but the jewel in London’s repertory crown has to be the BFI Southbank, whose programmes of cinematic standards and hidden treasures are often backed up with copious production notes. Major seasons at the BFI in 2009 include Stanley Kubrick, the French New Wave and Joseph Losey. Riverside screens great repertory double-bills, and many cinemas including the Barbican and Rio have recently had success with silent films with live musical accompaniment. The Barbican’s ongoing Directorspective series is a welcome addition.

Which London cinemas are good for world cinema?

The BFI Southbank is your best bet for world cinema history, while for modern works the field is wide open: most cinemas, even the big chains, now show the latest hits from Europe and Asia. If you’re looking for programmes of films from specific countries, keep checking Time Out: last year saw about 60 festivals dedicated to films from Poland, Korea, Germany, Palestine and many others.

Which London cinemas are good for short films?

Discounting the festivals that contain sidebars of shorts, there are also lots of nights and events for the shorts-hungry punter. Short and Sweet is London’s only weekly shorts night, with screenings held at Café 1001 near Brick Lane and AKA Bar in Holborn. Future Shorts, too, show specially selected shorts packages screening at the Ritzy, Screen on the Green and other, more unusual venues. Also, try the Duke Mitchell Film Club at The Cross Kings pub in King’s Cross for more esoteric events.

Which London cinemas are good for Bollywood films?

Bollywood produces more than a thousand films a year, a small proportion of which make it to London’s screens. The vast majority are screened with English subtitles and are renowned for their vibrant colours, kitsch dance routines and, some might say, interminable running times. The Cineworld chain has at least three key London-area sites – Feltham, Staples Corner and Ilford – showing regular Bollywood fare. Other hugely popular Bollywood-only screens are the Himalaya Palace, Southall, Upton Park Boleyn, Willesden Belle Vue and Harrow Safari.

Which London cinemas can I drink in?

Many independent cinemas have allowed alcohol into screenings for a number of years, with the Electric, Curzons, and Everymans leading the way. However, with the once-strict BFI Southbank and select multiplex cinemas yielding to boozy demand, it’s now less the exception and more the norm. Special mention should go to the Roxy Bar & Screen, where cinema and watering hole cohabit to perfection. But know your limits. ‘We don’t encourage excessive drinking,’ says Tom Avison at the Everyman Belsize Park. ‘If someone was getting rowdy, we would deal with it in the appropriate manner.’

At which London cinemas can I watch a film with a baby?

Along with The Electric and Rio, most major chains like Odeon, Picturehouse and Vue programme films specifically for parents with children up to 12 months. Be aware, however, that most baby screenings tend to be punctuated by a comical/annoying chorus of gurgles, farts, chuckles and screams. But you’d be used to that.

Are there any child-free cinemas in London?

Vue Cinemas ran a trial series of over-18 screenings for both ‘Quantum of Solace’ and ‘Changeling’ (rated 12A and 15 respectively) in the latter half of 2008. They were so successful that they plan to make them a regular thing.

Are there any popcorn-free cinemas in London?

You might want to head to one of the Everyman cinemas (Everyman in Hampstead, Everyman Belsize Park, Screen on the Green, Screen on Baker Street) which, controversially, banned popcorn from their screens in 2008. Gourmet pitted olive, anyone?

Do the major cinema chains offer membership schemes?

Cineworld is the only major chain to offer a subscription card. Its ‘Unlimited Card’ entitles the user to watch ‘any film, any day and any time’ at any Cineworld apart from Chelsea, Shaftesbury Ave, Haymarket and Fulham Road – for just £11.99 per month. Neither Odeon nor Vue offer a similar scheme.

How are plans for a new BFI National Film Centre progressing?

Slowly. The economic downturn is unlikely to help the cause of the BFI, which wants to spend somewhere in the region of £150 million on a spanking new, multi-screen film centre to replace BFI Southbank by about 2014 – hopefully on a site near the London Eye. There are commitments of financial support in principle from both the Government and the Mayor’s office but somewhere in the region of £50m will have to be raised from other sources – a tough call until the economy heads upwards.

Where is the London Film Festival going to take place when the Odeon West End enters redevelopment?

Good question. The Odeon West End in Leicester Square, for many years the home of the festival alongside BFI Southbank, will enter redevelopment in 2009. The organisers of the festival are furiously searching for a new venue. Ideally, the festival will remain in Leicester Square to be able to cater for all the event’s premiere screenings, so the leading contenders must be the Empire and its next-door neighbour, the Vue. We’re not sure when the Odeon West End will reopen – but, when it does, it will be half the size.

Is celluloid film dying out?

Gradually. To replace standard celluloid projectors, cinemas are starting to install huge digital ones with three-terabyte servers attached on which you can store more than a hundred features and from which you can project films digitally. This means that it will not only be easier to programme films according to demand, but it also makes it more cost-effective to programme non-mainstream titles.

Where can I find out more about the history of London’s cinemas?

Those fascinated by the history of London’s picture palaces should consider visiting the Cinema Theatre Association.The experts at the CTA also produce a magazine, Bulletin, and an annual hardback.

Author: Time Out editors

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