Cinema in London

More than just a movie: the best cinema experiences in London

From outdoor cinema to fully immersive film experiences, the capital has plenty to offer movie buffs.

You won’t struggle to find a cinema in London – the centre of town is packed with top quality screens and like everything in this bustling city there’s something for everyone – but you might have to look a little bit harder to uncover the star performers. Leicester Square is the buzzing movie hub of the city – if you want to catch a glimpse of celebrities as they walk down the red carpet for UK premieres of the world’s biggest films, this is the place to do it. Premieres in Leicester Square are always a huge deal, with sections cordoned off in recent years for the stars of British classics such as Casino Royale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Bridget Jones’s Diary. The cinemas here are vast, with enormous screens and state-of-the-art equipment, and given the location slap bang in the middle of the London’s West End, you’re spoilt for choice for restaurants, pubs and other attractions too. If you want to check out the UK’s biggest screen however, you’ll find this at the BFI Imax in Waterloo – there’s no place better to experience those summer and Christmas blockbusters.
From arthouse to sing-alongs
There are also plenty of great cinemas that offer the usual Hollywood fare but cater too for those looking for something a bit more cultural. In central London the Curzon in Soho offers an excellent mix of the popular and the niche, as does the community-driven Rich Mix in the east of the city, a great-value venue which is often less crowded and has a café, bar and live music on most nights. Located just off Leicester Square, The Prince Charles Cinema is a real London institution, with no less than Quentin Tarantino declaring it “everything an independent movie theatre should be”. What makes the PCC so special is its distinctive design and a brilliant programme of events, including sing-alongs, quote-alongs and movie marathons – they recently showed every Harry Potter film back to back, but the double-bills and trilogy screenings they put on are a little more manageable for most people. The Screen on the Green, not too far from the centre of London on Upper Street in Islington, is another gem of a cinema that’s well worth seeking out too. There’s only one screen, but couples that want to snuggle up can book comfy sofa seats, while a bar at the back of the venue serves beer, wine and snacks during movies.
Brave the weather
Outdoor cinema viewings have really taken off in the capital over the last few years, despite Britain’s sometimes soggy summers. You can catch screenings from around May until September across the city, but it’s advisable to bring warm clothes and to check with the organisers beforehand to find out about seating arrangements, as you’ll want to be prepared if you’re going to be on the ground. Somerset House is a particularly grand venue that’s worth a visit on its own, and its courtyard is a wonderful place to enjoy a film on a balmy summer evening. The sound and picture quality are some the best you’ll find among the open air cinema options in London, while there’s plenty of staff around and a safe atmosphere for families and those new to London. Rooftop Film Club puts on outdoor movie screenings at five locations across the capital, including the Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch, the fancy Kensington Roof Gardens and the trendy Bussey Building in Peckham, which offers a fantastic lesser-seen view of the London skyline from the south of the capital and has some great bars and restaurants nearby. Luna Cinema screens open air films at over 20 locations in London, with venues as diverse as Kew Gardens, Kensington Palace and Greenwich Park. Their secret weapon though is Brockwell Lido, where they feature watery movies such as Titanic and Jaws – if you’re brave enough you can buy a ticket to enjoy the film from a dinghy in the pool itself!
Immersive cinema
Lastly, Secret Cinema’s often controversial events are huge ‘immersive’ experiences where attendees and scene-performing actors mingle in venues decked out to look like sets from the film being shown – one notable example from recent years was a screening of The Shawshank Redemption shown in a ‘prison’ (actually a tricked-out former school) where movie-goers were given mock trials and were sentenced before watching the film dressed in prison uniforms. It’s not a cheap night out and you must be prepared to dress up and get involved, but what you get for your money is an experience that you won’t find anywhere else in the UK.
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