In a world of glittering new multiplexes, it can be a challenge to find a characteristic film going experience. However, London’s longstanding love of cinema means there are plenty of historic picture houses to be enjoyed. Whether it’s elegant arched ceilings you’re looking for or rooftop views the capital is bursting with alternative ways to enjoy films both new and old. This post will give you some insider knowledge into the history of some of the most iconic cinemas dotted around London, giving you inspiration for team nights out or as a way to decompress after a long work week.

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Regent Street Cinema, c. 1900

Cinema first came to the UK in 1896 when the Lumière brothers showcased their revolutionary short films at the Polytechnic in Upper Regent Street. Now simply known as the Regent Street Cinema, it re-opens this month 35 years after its initial closure following a whopping 6 million pound refurbishment that has seen the original art deco interiors restored in a plush new auditorium. It’s also the only cinema in the UK boasting the capability to show 16mm, 35mm, Super 8 and 4K formats, making it an exciting addition to the scene for any die hard film buffs who like their pictures to have a vintage feel. As a bonus, our serviced apartments in Soho are just a 10 minute walk away.

Portobello Road’s Electric Cinema is another historic staple of the London film scene, now managed by the stylish Soho House Group with a tasty diner located next door. As one of the capital’s first purpose built picture houses, the interiors from its 1911 opening have been beautifully restored following a brief closure between 1993 and 2001. You’ll be treated to smart leather armchairs, tables with atmospheric lighting, sofas and even front row beds guaranteeing luxurious levels of comfort during viewings. This elevated level of service comes at a price, but it’s worth it for the cashmere blankets.

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The Ritzy, c. 1920

Many early picture houses had eye catching ornate exteriors to tempt the punters in, with Brixton’s Ritzy being no exception. Like many independent cinemas, it had to resist demolition attempts in the 1970s, meaning many of the vintage interior charms remain, with the highlight being the red velvet curtain that’s raised before every showing. Add in a varied line-up of local music acts and an impressive selection of craft beers available at the bar and you’ve got the complete alternative evening, whether you opt for a blockbuster or an art-house flick.

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The Ritzy, Today

Fans of more challenging programming should head to Curzon Bloomsbury, which champions art-house films in a modern setting whilst preserving the characteristics of the 50 year old brutalist building, including the iconic neon Renoir logo in the main auditorium. It’s also the first cinema in the UK to have a dedicated documentary screen in the form of the Bertha DocHouse, aiming to attract aspiring filmmakers and fans with free showings and Q&As. Our serviced apartment in Marchmont Street also happens to be just around the corner.

So far we’ve seen some success stories with revamped, rejuvenated cinemas bursting with character, but what about screenings that break the confines of traditional auditoriums? Recent years have seen innovative promoters across London push the boat out by taking traditional viewing experiences to new, immersive heights. Take the Rooftop Film Club for example, now showing a cocktail of classics from Back to the Future to more recent successes like Mad Max: Fury Road whilst offering awe-inspiring panoramic views across London at locations in Peckham, Stratford, Shoreditch and Kensington. Boldness is encouraged, so if you feel like going all out with some fancy dress you could bag a prize from the box office. The other extreme if you’re not a fan of heights is Underground Film Club, with comfy seating in a cavernous chamber near Waterloo offering a cosier alternative for enjoying your favourite flicks.

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Rooftop Film Club, Peckham

Another extravagant event can be found at Hot Tub Cinema, once again swapping passive viewing experiences in favour of fancy dress, tasty food and drink and a party atmosphere for guaranteed fun on a group night out. Equally ambitious projects such as Edible Cinema aim to enhance every sense by offering bespoke, timed nibbles that complement individual movie scenes, showing it’s not just about finding unlikely locations for screenings as you taste your way through the drama.

In the 120 years since the capital’s debut screening London’s film landscape has evolved into an independent cinema goer’s paradise. The small and the brave have found creative ways to set themselves apart from the Odeons and the Vues by preserving historic auditoriums and offering more challenging and varied programs. Newer, interactive events aim to make the night as much about the surroundings as the films themselves. You can only imagine what the next century of cinema goers will be treated to...