If you’re a film-lover in London craving something a little different from the Vue, Odeon or Cineworld, there’s a thriving independent cinema culture waiting to be discovered.
Ever heard of the small Lambeth cinema that lets you skip trailers in favour of talking movies with your fellow cinema-goers, or the volunteer-run picturehouse which donates 100% of its proceeds to charity? What about the 1910 cinema where you can watch movies from the comfort of a double bed?
All of these – and many more – exist in London.
Here are just some of the many reasons to pick one of London’s indie cinemas over a chain:
- They run loads of independent movies and foreign language films that don’t get picked up by larger cinemas
- They’re often much more cosy and offer a more personal viewing experience
- Most indie cinemas in London have a rich history going back decades or even centuries
- Ticket prices are normally much more reasonable
All the cinemas on this list have something unique to offer, so read on to discover your new favourite!
1. Prince Charles Cinema
With all-night cult movie marathons (e.g. Wes Anderson, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Harry Potter, etc.) and Q and A appearances from actors, writers and directors, a visit to the the Prince Charles Cinema is a great way to rediscover what you love about movies, including the genuinely good and the so-bad-it’s-good.
You don’t have to be a member to go there, but for only £10 yearly a membership is well worth it – members can see some movies for as little as £1, so it will pay for itself after a few visits.
Prices vary a lot depending on the time of day. For huge savings on ticket prices, go during weekday mornings and afternoons.
Attend a screening of the ‘world’s worst movie’ The Room, a Sound of Music singalong or even a Mean Girls ‘bitchalong’. Or just see a regular movie, if you prefer: their programme also features new and mainstream material.
2. Whirled Cinema
Whirled Cinema foregoes all trailers and advertising and instead gives movie-goers the chance to socialise with fellow patrons in the lounge and outdoor balcony to discuss the feature before and after the screening.
Thy operate on a membership basis at £99 per year for all showings (or £9.99 monthly) and you can bring one guest for free. They also serve gourmet popcorn and a range of cocktails at pretty reasonable prices.
3. Phoenix Cinema
Having opened in 1912, the single-screened Phoenix Cinema has been the backdrop of several fashion shoots, as well as appearing in several TV shows and movies (look out for it in Interview With The Vampire) and when you see the decor, you’ll know why.
Phoenix is one of the oldest continuously running cinemas in the UK, with a rota mainly of arthouse films and an auditorium featuring a vaulted ceiling and Art Deco panelling – but if that’s too grand for you, there’s also a cute café with a chalkboard menu serving soups, mezze and a range of beers and wines.
4. Rich Mix
If you like your cinemas majestic, you’ll like Rich Mix – an enormous five floor venue which serves as an entire community arts hub in Shoreditch. The programme includes music, dance, spoken word and more – including a rota of varied movies.
5. Rio Cinema
This century-old Art Deco cinema in Dalston opened its doors in 1909 and is listed as a world heritage site. Its program is a mix of modern and classic movies, so you’re sure to find something appealing – and with it being open 364 days of the year, there are very few reasons not to go.
As a registered charity, the Rio also does cultural outreach in the local community and collaborates with the East End Film Festival and Short Film Festival.
Voted London’s best value cinema in Time Out, all tickets at Peckhamplex are £4.99, all day and every day, even for new releases (which are the focus of its rota).
The building is cheap and cheerful, but for blockbusters on a budget you’re unlikely to find a better price.
7. Curzon at Goldsmiths
Curzon might technically be a chain, but I think there’s a good argument to be made for including this particular branch on a list of indie cinemas. This one was created in partnership with Goldsmiths University and the lecture hall auditorium will make you feel like you’re back at uni. It’s not flashy, but it’s friendly and unpretentious.
Tickets can be had for only £7 on selected Monday and Wednesday evening screenings, or only £5 for students (Goldsmiths and otherwise).
8. BFI Southbank
One for serious indie movie aficionados and lovers of world cinema, this four screen venue runs over 2,000 different movies every year.
Featuring a huge selection of new, classic and foreign-language movies, as well as themed film seasons and an impressive calendar of events, it’s certainly worth a visit.
This place is also super student-friendly, providing free access to the BFI National Archives in the Mediatheque and free resources on the history of cinema in the Reuben Library.
Bonus: if you’re aged under 25, you can get £3 tickets to any movie showing at any time at BFI Southbank!
9. Ciné Lumière
As part of the Institut Français – a network promoting French culture and language – Ciné Lumière focuses on French, European and World Cinema. As well as running a combination of new movies, previews and classics, they also host special events attended by actors and directors.
If you’re 25 or under, you can see a film for £5!
10. ArtHouse Crouch End
This small cinema – formerly a brick church – is known for its homemade feel (check out the café with its mismatched tables and fully vegetarian menu) and for celebrating the local culture of its native Haringey, which their upcoming Haringey Film Festival will focus on.
See a variety of indie and Hollywood movies here. If you’re a bibliophile as well, you can even join their book club, featuring books that have been adapted to movies.
11. Electric Cinema
Over 100 years old, Electric Cinema is perhaps the cosiest of all the cinemas on this list and has the distinction of being Britain’s first black-owned cinema when it opened in the silent film era of 1910. Today it’s a Grade II listed building (having narrowly avoided being destroyed during the blitz) running mainstream and arthouse movies.
Book an armchair, sofa or even a double bed and get comfy in the huge historical auditorium.
12. Close Up Cinema
Close Up isn’t just a place to watch movies, it’s an entire resource for the history of film. At their Film Centre in Shoreditch you can find over 20,000 books, films and pieces of digital media – as well as their small screen cinema which shows a variety of experimental, classic and arthouse movies.
The space itself is also a great hang-out spot, with chess, many books on film history, comfy sofas and coffee to buy.
13. Rooftop Film Club / Drive In Film Club
An absolute must in London’s warmer months is to enjoy some open-air cinema. Rooftop Film Club, and its recent sister company Drive In Film Club, offer a selection of new and classic movies from the comfort of your car or a cosy deckchair – all whilst enjoying spectacular views of the city at sunset.
Wireless headphones are provided at their Queen of Hoxton and Bussey Building locations, so you’ll get to enjoy their rooftop movies without the interruption of city noise or other customers.
14. Lexi Cinema
Lexi Cinema is a unique concept: staffed almost entirely by local volunteers, it runs a series of cult films, classics and independent movies – all whilst donating 100% of its proceeds to a South African charity focused on sustainability and learning in a rural community.
Look for its bright pink logo and red brick facade on Chamberlayne Road.
15. Genesis Cinema
The building now housing Genesis Cinema was constructed in 1885 and hosted both Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy in its long history as an entertainment space.
As well as running a series of short movies, cult classics and new releases (both Hollywood and alternative), it’s received great reviews on Google for its potential as a hang-out spot, with multiple bars, coffee machines and snack areas.