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Filmmakers and actors share their first moviegoing memories

Edgar Wright, Naomie Harris and Benedict Cumberbatch on their first ever cinema trips

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

The happy day is almost upon us: cinemas are reopening on May 17, and this time for good (we hope). To celebrate, we’ve asked a few film luminaries to share their earliest cinema-going memories. The outing where the movie bug bit for the first time – or in one case, just loomed out of the screen like an acid trip – and wax nostalgic on what made it memorable. 

Ken Loach remembers a date gone wrong, Alice Lowe recalls falling hard for The Dark Crystal, Rachel Weisz shares her Wizard of Oz trauma, and to kick it off, Edgar Wright recounts his first moviegoing memory: Star Wars in Bournemouth’s Galaxy Cinema...

Edgar Wright – director Shaun of the Dead, Last Night in Soho
‘Look! Stars!’ I’m almost certain this was the profound statement I made when I saw my first film, Star Wars, at the age of three. But the film had not actually started yet.

I was looking at the ceiling of the Galaxy Cinema in Bournemouth, which was painted with glow in the dark stars. Even before George Lucas’ space opera had commenced I was already sold on the cinema experience. A dark room, a full crowd, palpable excitement and as an added bonus, a solar system daubed onto the ceiling. I was young enough that if I had been taken home before the main feature began, I would have still found this a significantly awe-inspiring sight for my tiny peepers.

Many recall the opening shot of ‘Star Wars’ with the giant Star Destroyer sailing over their heads as a major cultural event. In the Galaxy that night, it felt like the star ships were sailing right out of the ceiling. Thus my first experience of cinema was properly magical, to my eyes, this wasn’t an image projected onto a wall. Were we actually in the movie?

I asked my parents if we were about to see some fireworks. They said no, but in a way we did

Before the movie, we had been in a long snaking queue up round the corner of Westover Road and into the Galaxy on Hinton Road. My parents had not told my brother or I what we were watching, or even explained what cinema was. I remember asking them if we were about to see some fireworks. They said no. But in a way we did. I remain in awe of the ceremony to this day.’

Simon Pegg actor Star Trek, Shaun of the Dead
‘I saw Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger at the ABC Cinema, Gloucester with my dad. I saw all my formative films there – Star Wars, Raiders and E.T. – but this one was the first.’

Stephen Woolley producer Carol, The Crying Game
‘The film I remember with the most joy was The Crimson Pirate at the Rex cinema, which later became the Screen on the Green, in amazing Technicolor. I saw it with my cousin and re-enacted the sword fighting sequences all the way home. It has such a strong place in my heart, I couldn’t bear to watch it again in case it didn’t live up to the memory of fun and excitement and pure escapism that it inspired.

Photograph: Paramount PicturesGrease

Emily Mortimer actress Mary Poppins Returns, Shutter Island
‘My mum took me and my best friend to see Grease when I was seven. We both had the album. I remembered she fucked up the cover of hers and forced me to swap, which I’m still slightly irate about.’

Joe Cornishdirector Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King
‘My first trip to the movies was seeing The Jungle Book at what’s now The Brixton Academy in the early ’70s. The interior was designed like an Italian palace, complete with murals of trees, vines and hanging plants. In my tiny three-year-old brain, the animated jungle seemed to extend out into the auditorium, making the experience even more trippy.

Eddie Marsan actor The World’s End, Happy-Go-Lucky
‘I was raised in Bethnal Green and my first memory was my dad taking me to see the Disney Robin Hood in the West End. I was amazed that when I went in it was light and when I came out it was dark.’

Benedict Cumberbatch actor Doctor Strange, Sherlock Holmes
‘My first London cinema memory was seeing Octopussy at the Kensington Odeon. I remember the fold-up plane coming out of the horse truck and thinking Roger Moore was the coolest thing in the world. The tuk tuk car chase was brilliant. Talking about it makes me want to see it again.’

Photograph: Eon ProductionsOctopussy

Rachel Weisz actress The Favourite, The Constant Gardener
‘I remember going to the Ionic in Golders Green and seeing The Wizard Of Oz when I was about six. I was absolutely petrified by the green witch.’

Naomie Harris – actress Skyfall, Moonlight
‘It was The Wizard of Oz with my family. I can’t quite remember which one it was but my favourite London cinema was always Whiteleys. I’d come with a blanket and just kind of snuggle down to watch movies.’

Lily James – actress Baby Driver, Rebecca
‘My first cinema trip was either Titanic or Billy Elliot. I was way too young and I snuck in with my family. I remember chewing gum because I thought it would make me look older.’

Alice Lowe – actor and director Prevenge
‘​It was to see The Dark Crystal as a five-year-old at a multiplex in Coventry. I remember sitting in the car afterwards, totally dumbfounded, mind blown! I became a lifelong fan of Jim Henson.’

My abiding memory is of my arm losing circulation after being stretched around the back of the girl who’d agreed to come

Ken Loach – director Kes, Sorry We Missed You
‘My earliest memory is seeing The Adventures of Robin Hood at The Palace in Nuneaton. The last thing on anyone’s mind was the film, the question was: “Who are you going with?” My abiding memory is of my arm losing circulation after being stretched around the back of the girl who’d agreed to come, and was by then probably regretting it.’

Fionn Whitehead – actor Dunkirk, The Children Act
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was a big family affair. We’d buy sweets in Tesco, then go to see the Potter movies together at the Odeon near where we lived near Richmond.’

Timothy Spall – actor Mr Turner, Secrets & Lies
‘It was Mary Poppins at the Granada in Clapham Junction. I remember bawling with tears watching “Feed the Birds”. I used to go there Saturday mornings. They showed Flash Gordon but something was wrong with it and everyone was squashed. Flash looked like the Michelin man.’

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Photograph: Universal PicturesE.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Paul King – director Paddington, Bunny and the Bull
‘The movies I remember seeing before I was ten were Back to the Future and E.T. at MacRobert Arts Centre in Stirling. E.T. broke my heart and BTTF made me wish I could skateboard.’

Mark Cousins – director The Eyes of Orson Welles, Woman Make Film
‘It was seeing Herbie Rides Again at the ABC in Belfast in 1975. The Troubles were near their height, I was a nervy little boy, so a flying VW Beetle was a rapturous escape. I haven't seen it since.

Peter Strickland – director In Fabric, Berberian Sound Studio
‘I remember seeing Star Wars in London when I was four years old. We were late and turned up after Princess Leia was rescued, but it didn’t matter, as the whole thing was such a spectacle. As exhilarating as the film was, it didn’t instil in me an urge to see more films. I just saw it as a refreshing break from watching '70s kids’ television.’

Leo Bill – actor Rare Beasts, Mr Turner
‘I really remember seeing Wayne’s World at The Regal in Leamington Spa. I was maybe 11 or 12 and I went with a girl from school. She had a voice like a 100-a-day smoker and I loved her for it. Her friends showed up, sat a few rows behind us and threw popcorn at us for the entire movie. It was great... Not.’

When is your local London cinema reopening? Find out the latest dates here.

The best films to watch on the big screen this month.

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