Londoners like to stick to their communities, and going to local cinemas is part of their favourite activities! Even if wider chains have been acquiring historical cinemas over time, you can still admire their impressive buildings today.
Some opened in the 19th century and are still running, and it’s the perfect way to experience vintage London. Independent movie theatres have always been a part of British cinema history, and we selected some of the oldest cinemas in London to watch a movie in style.
Regent Street Cinema, Regent Street
This is the oldest London cinema, as it opened its doors in 1848. At the time, a new theatre was added to the formerly Royal Polytechnic Institution to showcase science and technology innovation, live music, drama, and theatrical performances. Regent Street Cinema is also the first cinema in the UK to have screened the Lumière brothers’ show in 1896.
Rio Cinema, Dalston
In 1909, Clara Ludski converted an auction building into the Rio Cinema with the help of a young designer who later became the architect for Gaumont Cinemas. The new Dalston cinema worked so well that Clara decided to extend it to the spectacular Rio Cinema as we know it today. And every year, it hosts exciting events such as the London Kurdish Film Festival, Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest and Doc’n Roll Film Festival.
Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley
Opened in 1910, the Phoenix Cinema has been running since then! Nestled in East Finchley, North London, it is a charming cinema showing independent, foreign and classic films. Its beautiful auditorium is made of art deco panels and is still, to date, very much appreciated by the residents.
Electric Cinema, Notting Hill
Part of the Portobello vibe since 1911, the Electric Cinema has created a cosy atmosphere by presenting guests with comfy blankets on front-row beds, armchairs or sofas. This is a perfect spot for a romantic date in London, as you can also order drinks while watching a movie.
The Ritzy, Brixton
Since 1911, the Ritzy has been an iconic Brixton institution. First known as the ‘Electric Pavilion’, it has always played a part in Brixton’s booming arts and nightlife scene. Today part of Picturehouse, it shows a variety of films, from big blockbusters to alternative horror, but that’s not all, as it offers much more entertainment. Upstairs, attend soul nights or try Queenstown Sessions on Tuesdays.
Screen on the Green, Angel
Located in Islington, this cinema was originally an animated picture show run by The Pesaresi Brothers until 1913, when it became The Empress Picture Theatre. It then closed in 1951 for refurbishment and reopened as The Rex. Later in the seventies, it reopened again as Screen on The Green with a 300-seat capacity, and today is part of the Everyman chain. You can expect luxury seats, cushions, food and drinks while watching a film.
The Castle, Clapton
Since its opening in 1913, The Castle in Clapton has been many things until a local couple acquired it to make it a cinema again in 2016. Thanks to an overachieving crowdfunding campaign, the owners revived the spirit of the old cinema by conserving and restoring its art deco bar and two screens and refurbishing its auditorium with comfy seats.
David Lean Cinema, Croydon
Initially a library, then a Town Hall, in 1990, this building was converted into an intimate cinema to honour the director David Lean. Since then, the David Lean Cinema cinema has been showing British and World classics, along with the regular selection. Later in 2011, unfortunately, it closed to reopen in 2014 thanks to a supportive campaign. With friendly volunteers and affordable tickets, this locally-run cinema is a great choice for your evening.
Nurturing local cinemas is crucial to passing the love for cinema to the coming generations, as well as for the British cultural and historical heritage.
And now that you know where to go for your next movie evening why not add a festive London tour to your experience?