Even in a world where streaming movies at home has become immensely easy, it simply can’t compare to a rich cinema-going experience—the wafting smell of buttery popcorn from the lobby, stupendous screens, plush seats, and an audience to share your oohs and aahs. After a year-long hiatus for many movie theatres around the world, we explore a selection of iconic cinema halls who still wear their historical halcyon days with Art Deco accents and pantheon-inspired domes. So take a seat in Quentin Tarantino’s famous revival project, gander at India’s groovy meringue-shaped cinema that’s screened many a Bollywood premier, and squeeze into the world’s smallest public movie theatre that’s housed in a Roman park, all which are most definitely worth leaving your couch.
Studio 28, Paris
Nestled in the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Studio 28 holds a hard-earned soft spot in the Parisian filmscape. Founded in 1928, as its name suggests, it is reputed to be the world’s first avant-garde art house. Inaugurating the space with Abel Gance’s silent masterpiece Napoleon, the cinema made a name for itself by premiering the works of several creative masterminds, such as, Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dali, Luis Buñuel, Frank Capra, and Jean Cocteau.
Stella Cinema, Dublin
After falling into dilapidation, with the help of determination and old photographs, Stella Cinema was restored to its 1920s grandeur, in 2017, barring minor modern twists. We’re talking about rows of leather armchairs and couches, with small circular snack tables accented with deco lamps, and leather ottomans to rest your feet upon. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?
The Castro Theatre, San Francisco
Designed to pay homage to the Mission Dolores Basilica, the Castro Theatre is now a historical landmark of San Francisco in its own right. Built in 1922, the cinema resides in the city’s most prominent LGBTQ+ neighborhood and underscores showcasing queer directors, along with film noir double features. Ask for a movie theatre recommendation in San Francisco, and you’ll most likely be taken here.
Raj Mandir, Jaipur
This meringue-shaped cinema first opened its doors in 1976 and has projected the premiers of many Bollywood films over its tenure. As a popular symbol of Jaipur, it was painted pink to honor the city’s status as the ‘Pink City.’ Inside, you will find chandeliers, a groovy staircase, and a single screen with 1,100 seats lining its massive auditorium. This spot attracts droves of movie-lovers and tourists alike, making it a must-visit in Jaipur.
The Astor, Melbourne
Built in 1936, the Astor is lauded as the oldest single-screen theatre in Melbourne. Adorned with red velvet curtains, geometric carpets, 1930s movie posters, and even a piano, the cinema has managed to preserve its old-world charm with panache. What makes this cinema so special is that in addition to screening cult classics, it regularly runs the gamut of behemoth pop culture flicks, including, the Star Wars saga, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Harry Potter marathons. You guessed it, the auditorium is always packed.
Paris Theater, New York City
As a 1948 post-war institution, Paris Theater has become the longest running, single-screen movie theatre in Manhattan. The art house has introduced impactful foreign films to American cinephiles through contemporary classics like Monsoon Wedding and A Room With A View. After a renovation and change of ownership the theatre will reopen on August 6th, 2021 under the ownership of Netflix with a screening of the online streamer’s The Forty-Year-Old Version by Radha Blank. Oh, and the fact that it is directly across The Plaza and Central Park most definitely adds to its charm.
New Beverly Hills Cinema, Los Angeles
Housed in a building that dates to the 1920s, New Beverly Hills is one of the oldest revival houses in the region. Owned by Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker saved the building from redevelopment in 2007 and has since been screening rare classics in 35 mm including many from his personal collection. Many call it the coolest vanity project in cinema. Affordable ticket prices are also an attraction.
Cine Thission, Athens
Open-air cinemas during the summertime are a major part of Greek culture. Despite the wide variety of al fresco cinemas in the city, the 1935-established Cine Thission is regarded as a legend in the cineaste community. Heralded by CNN as the best cinema in the world, in 2014, Thission offers a careful selection of beloved classics and new releases. Retro seats sprawl across a beautiful garden complimented by vistas of the Acropolis; movie-watching under the stars makes for a miraculous experience at Thission.
The Electric, London
Standing on London’s world-famous Portobello Road, The Electric Cinema is one of Britain’s oldest working cinemas. Designed for motion picture exhibition, its name is inspired by being one of the first buildings in the area to be supplied with electricity. Nuzzled amongst the pastel buildings of Notting Hill, this cinema houses comfortable seats, beds at the very end, and has even got the striking Electric House—that falls under the SOHO House banner—as its next-door neighbor.
The Labia Theatre, Cape Town
Known to be the oldest independent cinema in South Africa, the Labia Theatre is a popular attraction for Cape Town locals. Situated in the capital’s Gardens neighborhood, the building was originally an Italian Embassy ballroom, until the Italian noble, Princess Labia, converted it to a performing arts theatre in 1949. The Labia began screening films in the mid-1970s, but painstakingly retained the structure’s old-world character: the theatre only made the shift from celluloid to digital projection as late as 2014.
The Colosseum Kino, Oslo
Distinct for its grand spherical dome, the Colosseum Kino is the largest cinema in northern Europe. Opened in 1928 with a seating capacity of 2,100, the cinema was home to a range of entertainment— from the staging of live concert performances of Louis Armstrong to the screening of motion pictures like Cleopatra. In 1963, during the premier of the film Mutiny on the Bounty, a fire that started inside the theatre caused its dome to collapse. The cinema was given a new lease of life and re-built by the city council in 1964, though it drastically reduced its seating capacity to 1,158.
Cine Capitol, Madrid
Standing prominently on Gran Via, in the city center, Cine Capitol is easily one of Madrid’s most iconic cinemas. A masterpiece of renowned Spanish architects Vicente Eced and Luis Martinez-Feduchi, it opened its doors to the public in 1933 along with the entirety of the 15-floor Capital Building that is still lionized for its eye-catching expressionist style. In its current form, the Vincci Capitol Hotel shares the structure with the state-of-the-art cinema at its base, the latter housing three screening rooms and a total of 1,360 seats.
Khudozhestvenny Сinema, Moscow
Inaugurated in 1909, Khudozhestvenny Cinema is Moscow’s (and one of the world’s) oldest cinema(s), surviving the Russian Revolution, World War II, and Stalinism. By 1913 it was so popular it was expanded and redesigned by Russia’s celebrated modern architect, Fyodor Schechtel, who decorated the structure with neoclassical bas-reliefs. The cinema quickly became a hub for Russia’s intelligentsia, though over a century of prolific use saw the theatre close in 2014. After seven years of restoration work, the 111-year-old cinema re-opened its door in April, 2021. With four halls and state-of-the-art film projectors, the theatre tries to balance the blockbusters on its lineup with highbrow indie cinema, after all, Leo Tolstoy used to watch movies here.
Cinema Dei Piccoli, Rome
Named by the Guinness World of Records as the smallest movie theatre in the world, the humble wooden structure looks more like a cottage than a cinema; however, the petite 1930s-era building (which was restored in the 1990s) fits right into its nook of Rome’s resplendent Villa Borghese Garden Park. Fitting only a single projector and 63 seats, Cinema Dei Piccoli (Cinema of the Little Ones) has earned the reputation of screening some of the finest Italian and European productions for both children and adults. Locals fondly call it Casa Topolino, ‘Mickey Mouse’s House,’ after its original name Cinema Topolino.
TCL Chinese Theatre, Los Angeles
Styled with imported temple bells, pagodas, stone ‘Heaven Dogs,’ and other artifacts from China, this Exotic Revival cinema hall stands on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame. Originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, this hallowed ground for moviegoers sits in front of Marilyn Monroe’s handprints, was the first theatre to host the Oscars, and screened the premier of the first Star Wars movie (Episode IV- A New Hope) in 1977. It even has an IMAX auditorium.
Sun Picture Gardens, Broome
Sun Pictures enjoys the title of being the oldest operable outdoor cinema in the world. While it only officially opened as a ‘picture garden’ in 1916, the tin structure reportedly hosted Noh plays in the 1910s under the direction of the property’s original owners, the Yamsaki family. Today, the theatre has moved on from silent films, racist seating policies, and tidal flooding that are all part of its history, which visitors can learn about on audio tours of the cinema during June-August.
Grand Teatret, Copenhagen
Right around the corner from Copenhagen’s City Hall stands the red brick facade of Grand Teatret. The space was once the concert hall of The Palace Hotel (which still exists) and only began featuring films in 1913. While it was known to specialize in French films in the 1960s, today Grand Teatret has carved out a reputation as a great cinema to catch pop culture music docs. The cinema has its own distribution arm (Camera Film) that has bought the Danish rights for the likes of Searching for Sugar Man, along with the respective and posthumous documentaries on Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Janis Joplin.
Tanya Rose Rao can be found most times with her nose buried behind a book. A lover of the great outdoors, she is fascinated by the sounds, smells and rhythms of the natural world and can talk about its sustainability with a passion. She is a recent master's graduate from Delhi School of Economics.