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London's 10 Best Independent Cinemas

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by Julie McNamee (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in North London. Visit my blog at
Published March 11th 2012
Renoir cinema
Renoir Cinema

There are a growing number of people avoiding the overpriced, over-sized popcorn and coke hard-sell in the large cinema chains. These are people who appreciate silence and a bit of respect while watching a film, hopefully without the stink of nachos assaulting their nostrils while they're trying to watch the film. They also appreciate a film that isn't either 3d, blockbuster, action or rom-com.

Here's a list of 10 of the best of these blessed small, independent, arthouse and quirky cinemas in London:

1) Renoir

Now part of the Curzon group, the Renoir opened as the Bloomsbury Cinema in 1972 in newly built Brunswick Square. Arthouse, independent and foreign language films (especially French) are shown as well as little film festivals.

In its time it's also been known as the ABC Bloomsbury, the EMI International Film Theatre, Cinegate and Gate 2 in its time. Wow.


Brunswick Square


2) Barbican

Leave yourself a bit of time and buy your tickets before you get to the Barbican cinema in the City of London. The building is a maze and signs are virtually non-existent. Cinema 1 is two floors below ground level - and you're probably best walking rather than waiting for the lifts.

However, it's a lovely, comfortable cinema that shows plenty of films out of the mainstream and they sell tickets for 5 on a Monday.


Barbican Centre
Silk Street


3) Coronet

The Coronet is a converted theatre in Kensington, which opened in 1898, and is as lavishly decorated as you would expect a theatre of that era (one that has survived, at least) to be.

Again, the films it shows probably won't include Saw 16 or the latest Jennifer Aniston comedy.


103 Notting Hill Gate
W11 3LB


4) Everyman

Everyman Hampstead was my near local when I lived in Kentish Town and I often went for an evening of luxury and waiter service in your seat. Plenty of expensive snacks, tea and coffee, wine or beer or whatever madam wishes while you're luxuriating in their plush sofas and chairs.

Not as arthouse as I would like - Woman in Black was the last film I saw there - but a great place to treat yourself to a nice film in.


Various branches but Hampstead:
5 Holly Bush Vale
London NW3 6TX


5) BFI Southbank

My favourite cinema in London, this Southbank stalwart is one of the dwindling number of cinemas with traditional film projectors (see a Time Out article on the rise of the digital project here.

The BFI is a government-run organisation who are also responsible for the National Film Library, and as a result of being subsidised, ticket prices are very reasonable by London standards - and cheaper again if you become a member (40 for an annual membership at the moment).

They show a wonderful range of auteur films, foreign language and classic black and white, and it's the kind of place where you might well be lynched if you chatted through a showing.


BFI Southbank
Belvedere Road
South Bank


6) Curzon

Comfortable and quirky arthouse cinemas, you're normally in with a a chance of seeing an interesting new film in this small chain.

The Soho branch is very near Chinatown so go there for a cheap and cheerful dinner before your film. There's also a Konditor and Cook for coffee and a cake and a well-sized bar inside.


Various branches, but Curzon Soho
99 Shaftesbury Avenue


7) Prince Charles

Another Chinatown location, this is right off Leicester Square and is as far removed from the rest of the cinema chains in that particular location as Buckingham Palace is from my house.

Cult films, singalong events, marathons and all nighters are all specialities of "the best value cinema in London". A wacky little place that a lot of people have a lot of affection for.


7 Leicester Place


8) Rio

This art deco cinema in Dalston has operated as one since 1913. It was last refurbished in 1999.

It shows a mixture of new non-mainstream films and classics.


103-107 Kingsland High Street
E8 2PB


9) Lexi

This chic little cinema in Kensal Rise is the "first social enterprise independent boutique digital cinema in the UK" which gives all its proceeds to charity.

They show a real mixture of films - arthouse and populist, with an aim of attracting a greater range of members of the local community.


194 Chamberlayne Road
NW10 3JU


10) Phoenix

Championed by the likes of Mark Kermode and Ken Loach, the Phoenix has recently reopened after a major refit which was to coincide with its 100th anniversary.

With another varied programme of films to suit the locals, the Phoenix runs a film festival, subtitled screenings and educational programmes and there's also a very nice cafe which services alcoholic drinks as well as beverages and snacks.


52 High Road East Finchley
N2 9PJ

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Why? To avoid the mega-chains
When: On the weekend
Where: All over London
Cost: Varies
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