We’ve compiled our top ten list of London’s cinemas¹ based on the number of times they’ve featured in our weekly screen guides². These are all splendid places to inspire your quest for adventurous moving pictures and seek shelter from the storm. For more history about the screens themselves, we’ve linked each title to the always excellent Cinema Treasures.
We’ll update this list regularly, and publish new ones soon.
A flagship for the arts and culture in the City of London, Barbican sits atop our alphabetical list because of its compelling seasons linked to their art gallery (THE JAPANESE HOUSE and INTO THE UNKNOWN) and collaborations (the Royal Academy’s REVOLUTION and SCIENCE ON SCREEN). Sunday silents with live music are a speciality as are excellent strands about movies, their makers and the impact they have on our lives (THE CRAFT OF FILM, FOCUS ON FILM, CINEMA MATTERS).
London’s mothership of moving pictures is responsible for promoting and preserving film and filmmaking across the UK. BFI Southbank holds its place on our list thanks to encyclopaedic – almost extravagant – seasons, an abundance of festivals and programmes that draw impressively from a vast back catalogue. Their commitment to the diversity of films, filmmakers and audiences as well as strands dedicated to experimental films and cult cinema results in an unrivalled scope. Informed introductions and Q&As with cast and crew come thick and fast, making BFI Southbank a place to rub shoulders if there ever was one…
This specialist French language cinema at the French Institute UK has a strong commitment to new works from France – and further afield – as well as regular strands committed to the many classics of French cinema. It features regularly in our guides for promoting works by and about women as well as an excellent programme of screen talks on Sundays and regular Q&As with cast and crew.
Close-Up scores highly for its specialist skills in compiling seasons of largely underseen moving pictures that have shaped the history of cinema. Showcasing the work of artist, experimental and avant garde filmmakers alongside the more regular kind – from these shores and further afield – their constantly evolving programme is always alive and varied. Kitted out with a library of both print and moving images, and with various membership offers for the committed, it’s a fine a place to seek shelter from the storm.
It might be small with only 40 seats but its programme is perfectly formed. The “community cinema for Lewisham” features on our list for its strong commitment to world cinema (recent highlights include the cinemas of Korea and Latin America) and nimble thematic strands that bring its programme to life with regular flourishes of wit (Binge:DADS for Father’s Day was a recent favourite…) and passion (DCQ and SEDITIOUS CINEMA). How community cinema should be done.
The UK’s first cinema dedicated solely to documentary, Dochouse has an exemplary commitment to new and cutting edge documentary including recent releases, festival favourites, shorts and more from across the world. We particularly like their DocHouse First strand which backs documentary films currently without a UK distributor and their DocHouse Thursdays which showcase films and their makers on the Curzon Bloomsbury’s biggest screen.
The central London arts venue appears on our list for its commitment to feature length documentaries and film festivals – homegrown and in collaboration with others – that celebrate more adventurous content. A home for “radical art and culture”, the ICA is a great place to engage with and better understand world cinema’s cutting edge through their regular programme strands and Q&As with artists and filmmakers.
London is spoilt for smaller cinema chains – Everyman, Curzon, Picturehouse – as well as larger chains with the screen capacity to take the odd risk or two. More often than not we’ve found ourselves heading to Picturehouse for their dedication to original formats, cult seasons, documentary strand and extensive support for film festivals. Picturehouse Central has a stunning main screen – with a bent for science fiction – that makes it one of our default places to huddle in the dark.
Much more than a sing-a-long, Prince Charles features regularly in our guides for its eclectic revivals, awesome double bills and commitment to world cinema often in original projection formats. Given that we love lurking around the fringes of genre cinema, the Prince Charles is also a great place to explore sci-fi, horror and anime. Oh, and that’s not to mention their excellent pricing, membership offers and BEER & PIZZA nights… The list of CURRENT SEASONS & EVENTS alone is enough to get us weak at the cinematic knees.
Regularly cited as the home of moving pictures in Britain – after the Lumière bros’ used the venue to showcase their Cinématographe to the press and public in 1896 – Regent Street joins our list not just for its inner Art Deco beauty but also for its grown-up programming. Home to excellent world cinema with a strong commitment to festivals and collaborations on celluloid with enthusiasts like Cigarette Burns Cinema, Regent Street always has something to offer. It also happens to make a stunning venue for an opening night gala. We are – if nothing else – mugs for a glass of something fizzy and a fancy nibble.
For purely accounting reasons, these cinemas didn’t end up in our top ten but are great places to start your hunt for adventurous moving pictures.
WHAT HAVE WE MISSED?
No list would be complete without the ones we’ve missed… Let us know if we should be including your favourite cinema in our weekly screen guides using the comments below. Or, if you are a cinema and want to invite us over to see your screens and sample your artisanal popcorn/hotdogs/coffee/beer (just saying…), contact us here.
- We’re focusing here on cinemas (you know, walls, projectors, screens, popcorn…) rather than galleries, pop-ups, film clubs or festivals. They’ll get their own guides soon.
- As of w/c 16 June 2017. Our weekly London screen guides are compiled using a completely subjective, hand-picked, un-scientific approach.
Featured image: RADIANT CIRCUS.