London's best cinemas
As the birth place of British cinema, London has some of the most unique picture houses in the UK.
1 November, 2023
We don’t mind darker, colder nights – this is when the curtain comes up on a dazzling new season of films. Blockbusters like Barbie and Oppenheimer have revived our love of the cinema, and nothing beats the thrill of the big screen. From doggie movie dates to immersive performances, here’s your ticket to the coolest cinema experiences around London.
Electric Cinema, W11
Best for: retro romance
One of the oldest working cinemas in the UK, the Electric Cinema in Portobello, Notting Hill has been exquisitely restored by the Soho House group to retain its early 20th century Edwardian good looks.
Its modest frontage tucked between the canopies of independent shops belies the deeply plush décor within. Cuddle up to a cult classic in one of the venue’s cashmere blankets. Tuck into American-style fare in the neighbouring Electric Diner before settling in with a Manhattan cocktail and a mainstream movie.
Bring your tot along to an Electric Scream screening for parents and babies under one. You’ll also find the same spacious opulence in its sister cinema, housed in the former BBC Television Centre – the Electric Cinema White City in Wood Lane, W12.
The Phoenix Cinema, N2
Best for: silver screen nostalgia
Built in 1910 and launched in 1912 as the East Finchley Picturedrome, the beautifully preserved Art Deco Phoenix cinema is one of the oldest, continuously running cinemas in the UK. In the 1980s, the cinema was earmarked for demolition, but an English Heritage review secured it Grade II listed status due to its 1910 Edwardian barrel-vaulted ceiling and decorative wall panels by renowned 1930s cinema designers Mollo & Egan.
You can sit among that same ornate architectural splendour today. The venue’s programme features the best of new Hollywood releases, as well as world cinema and independent films. You can also enjoy screenings of opera and ballet, as well as special Bringing Up Baby screenings with homemade cakes in the café bar upstairs afterwards. The Phoenix’s profits are invested back into the building and community education.
Everyman Hampstead, NW3
Best for: intimate decadence
The Everyman group of boutique cinemas has 14 venues across London, and they’ve raised the bar when it comes to creating a top-tier cinema experience. The cinema that started it all is the Everyman Hampstead, in the heart of the historic Holly Bush Vale area.
Set in a quirky 1880s ex drill hall, it was transformed into a theatre in 1920 and as a cinema in 1933, attracting everyone from HRH Princess Margaret to legendary actor and theatre director, John Gielgud. Sink into the roomy sofas and armchairs and enjoy waiter service to your seat.
Book the 17-seater screen for your private party or take your little one along to Toddler Club. And as well as seeing classic and new releases on the two screens, enjoy live satellite broadcasts of music concerts and Royal Opera House performances.
Union Chapel, N1
Best for: a magical atmosphere
Little did the founders of Islington’s 19 century Gothic revival Union Chapel know that one day, Londoners would flock to this extraordinary place of worship to see everything from films to recitals.
This working church, entertainment venue, and drop-in centre for the homeless is a beloved fixture among Islington’s Georgian and Victorian terraces. As well as concerts, the Chapel hosts special cinematic events like the Banff Mountain Film Festival and Backyard Cinema’s Romeo & Juliet accompanied by a live gospel choir.
The experience is immersive. Surrounded by stained glass windows, gothic arches and candlelit aisles, you’re seated on original pews arranged on a slope so everyone can see the pulpit (the stage). It goes without saying that the acoustics are heavenly. Profits go towards the venue’s charity The Margin’s Project – supporting and empowering those facing homelessness in London.
Best for: bargain blockbusters
The no-frills Peckhamplex has a large and loyal following, not only for its friendly ambience where audiences have been known to be very vocal about on-screen action, but for its inflation-busting entry cost of £5.99.
Popular with families and students, it was converted from a branch of Sainsbury’s in 1994 and it has been entertaining all age groups ever since. The venue has participated in The Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival, Black History Month, and the French, Jewish and Feminist Cinema Festivals.
There are weekly screenings for parents with babies and the hearing impaired, monthly autism-friendly screenings, and they occasionally host Q&As with renowned directors and actors like Olivia Colman, Idris Elba and Matthew Bourne. In the summer, top your visit off with cocktails and epic views on the roof at Frank’s Bar.
Clapham Picturehouse, SW4
Best for: inclusive enjoyment
On the site of a former stables in the heart of Clapham Old Town lies the Clapham Picturehouse. It originally opened in 1910 as the Electric Picture Palace. After life as a snooker hall, the site became the Clapham Picturehouse cinema and bar in 1992, and has remained a popular social hub ever since.
The beauty is the sheer volume of movie options for different types of cinema goers. The venue shows independents and blockbusters as well as film seasons spotlighting Almodóvar, Anime, Wes Anderson, LGBTQ+ and more. It also hosts autism-friendly screenings, a Silver Screen for the over 60s, as well as Baby and Toddler Time for parents with pre-school children. Check out their other 13 London venues for special showings for those with dementia, as well as dog-friendly screenings, complete with blankets and water bowls.
Prince Charles Cinema, WC2
Best for: movie marathon die-hards
Just off Leicester Square, you might not look twice at the Prince Charles Cinema’s unassuming 60s façade. But what makes this picture house so special is its quirky programme. The cinema has iconic status among film fanatics and Hollywood royalty Quentin Tarantino declared it ‘everything an independent movie theatre should be’.
That’s because it offers a unique for mix of arthouse and Hollywood movies alongside back-to-back movie marathons, silent films with live scores and themed events. Belt out the familiar showstoppers at the Sing-A-Long A Sound of Music or channel your inner sleuth at the Solve-Along-A-Murder-She-Wrote.
And make it merry at the epic, 10-hour Christmas Pyjama Party, including favourites The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf and Home Alone. Become a member and your ticket is just £11 for one movie and £20 for an all-nighter.
Regent Street Cinema, W1
Best for: classic film buffs
In 1896, the Lumière brothers demonstrated their Cinématographe machine to the press in the Regent Street Cinema. These earliest of moving images were presented for the first time to a paying audience the following day. And for this reason, the venue is regarded as the birthplace of British Cinema.
The cinema was closed for 35 years from 1980 to 2015, when a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant helped to restore the Art Deco features of the building’s 1920s design. Now, you can sink back into plush gold velvet seats in a neoclassical style auditorium and enjoy mainstream, classic and foreign language cinema.
It is one of the few cinemas in the country to show 16mm and 35mm films, and one of the few to have an original 1936 working cinema organ by pipe organ builder John Compton. You can enjoy its uplifting harmonies on the first Monday of every month, when there ’s a recital before a classic movie matinée.
Rivoli Ballroom, SE4
Best for: vintage fun
A blaze of scarlet flock panelling, a gilded ceiling, red silk lanterns, shimmering chandeliers and a beautiful sprung maple dancefloor set the scene for a truly spectacular cinema experience at Crofton Park’s Rivoli – the only intact 1950s ballroom left in London.
First opened in 1913, it’s the ultimate in retro high camp, made famous by TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing and movies like Tom Hardy’s Legend. But when it’s not being used as a location or hosting its a fun disco, Northern Soul, Latin, salsa, jive and reggae dance nights, you can enjoy three pop up cinema nights every month, including a Fright Night theme for Halloween and all the favourite showings for a Christmas pop up.
Olympic Studios, SW3
Best for: laid back luxe
A one-time recording studio among the boutiques and eateries of Barnes Village, Olympic Studios was made famous by iconic bands like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Madonna and Adele. The elegant building began life as a community hall in 1906, and is now a plush cinema with cosy, felt-clad recliners, deep pile carpet, and front row footstools that let you kick back and relax.
You can see all the biggest blockbusters alongside streamed performances from the Royal Opera House and screenings of art exhibitions featuring artists like Klimt. Dine in the adjoining restaurant and enjoy access to exclusive events in the social hub of the private members’ club. Equally as sumptuous are sister cinemas The Cinema in the Power Station and The Cinema in the Arches - both at Battersea - and The Cinema at Selfridges..