The top 10 cinema experiences in Melbourne
Going to the movies is about so much more than the actual movie.
In the olden days, heading to the 'pictures' was an occasion to dress up, see, and be seen. While the commitment to high fashion in the cinema may have taken a hit (and Covid-19 did not help), there are still an array of cinemas providing glamorous, exciting and eclectic experiences for the avid moviegoer.
From independent cinemas offering jazz and comedy to blockbusters on the world’s biggest screen, we’ve done a round-up of the 10 best cinema experiences to visit on your next movie outing.
One of Melbourne’s most beloved venues on the Victorian Heritage Register, The Astor Theatre has been a grand, single-screen motion picture house since the 1930s. Entering is like taking a step back in time, where viewers are treated to stall seating, a dress circle, and a glamourous foyer entrance fit for an old Hollywood movie star. Upstairs, you can grab a wine and classic choc top before heading into your film for the evening.
Cinephiles hang out for the bi-annual program still made in their classic poster format, screening everything from ‘classics, cult favourites and select new releases' as well as films in 35mm and 70mm for the true film buffs out there. View the calendar and get ready for your next night out in style.
At Thornbury Picture House, it’s all about supporting local and different, where you can come for a film, private event, panel discussion or full-blown soirée. The owners have devoted their lives to the screen, working in festivals, film and TV making whilst running their own documentary film production company.
While the new releases are still there, at this family-run establishment you’ll also find a variety of cinema you can’t find anywhere else. From short film screenings to documentaries, premieres, cult classics and their very own Northern Lights Film Festival, this is a venue that celebrates a genuine love of film.
They’ve also partnered with local Italian eatery Umberto’s to offer a selection of antipastos, as well as an impressive selection of drinks and cocktails alongside the standard cinema fare.
A film institution, The Rivoli is to Camberwell what coffee is to the CBD. Frequented by local celebrities, stepping inside instantly transports you to the set of a 1940s Wes Anderson film. With colourful art deco architecture, sprawling staircases and grand cinemas that feel more like a fancy wedding venue than a cinema, The Rivoli is a must-see on every movie-lover’s list.
Featuring a rooftop bar, 'Nineteenforty', classic candy bar as well as alcoholic beverages, Village Cinema’s six-screen Rivoli also features an upscale Gold Class cinema showcasing the latest releases on the big screen.
Stepping into this westside locale feels like a stroll through 1930s Miami. The boutique eight-cinema icon is committed to its art deco aesthetic, which travels from the foyer all the way into each cinema with their signature club-style or lounge seating.
This licensed venue also ‘names’ its cinemas – no Cinemas 1 and 2 here. Think heading into La Scala, after a Barkly Street Italian cinema, or The Roxy, after Village cinema founder Roc Kirby’s first movie location.
Despite branching out to locations in Williamstown, Bairnsdale and Bright, The Sun is also big on independent content. Alongside their regular features, they also deliver a ‘Screens Without Borders’ program, a ‘partnership with non-government and community organisations combining inspirational movies with important health and welfare content.’
Other features of their unique programming include ‘event cinema’ such as opera and art screenings, ‘Back to the feature’ with retroactive sessions for cult classics, as well as Bambini sessions and function hire.
Ask any cinema-goer about their favourite Palace locale, and no doubt everyone has their favourite. Founded in the 70s and with locations around Melbourne, we’ve chosen the Westgarth for its relaxed setting, beautiful art deco bar and outdoor courtyard. Walking in gives an instant feel of old-world charm and decadence. Its southside sister site, The Palace Como on the corner of Toorak and Chapel, is also known for its opulent glamour and worldly programming.
Licensed with two on-site bars, food and film snacks, movie-goers will enjoy Palace Cinema's commitment to a mix of old and new, fusing in the latest releases with special events, film retrospectives, worldly film festivals, art-house screenings, art and dance on film, and special events.
Whilst this little gem may not come up on the ‘coolest’ lists around Melbourne, there’s something to be said for Waverley Cinema’s nod to a simpler time. Think cheap tickets from $6-$10, 90s-candy bar snacks, the latest releases and movies you may have just missed across its four cinemas
Run by the Jean family since 1974, the little independent cinema has become a mainstay of the suburban community for over 40 years, featuring films for the young, old and young at heart. A similar experience can also be found just east of Melbourne at the Croydon Cinemas.
Time for some old fashioned fun at Waverley Cinemas. Image: Four Square.
Any article about cinema in Melbourne would be amiss not to mention the beloved Cinema Nova. As the most prominent independent theatre in the southern hemisphere, Nova has committed to its eclectic programming, hosting a slew of film festivals such as the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Iranian Film Festival and the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.
The Nova also has weekly events for film buffs to get their fix, from CineTrivia to monthly matinees; music- on-film discussions; the Nova Film Club; art, opera and theatre screenings; fashion and dance on film; panel discussions with filmmakers and special events screenings.
A true Nova highlight is their weekly screening of ‘The Room,’ an interactive event with cheering, yelling, and iconic spoon throwing.
Cinema Nova is a licensed venue featuring an adjoined bar as well as in-house dining in their Nova Deluxe cinemas. Plus, located on top of Brunetti and pouring into Melbourne’s famous Lygon Street, it’s the perfect venue for a quintessial Melbourne dinner and a movie.
Originally known as The Glenferrie Theatre back in 1912, The Lido was bought by the Tamir family in 2013, joining their growing cinema empire alongside The Classic Elsternwick and Cameo Belgrave (also fabulous venues). With their direction, going to The Lido is going to an event.
Comprising of eight cinemas; a jazz room for music and comedy; monthly trivia and a summer rooftop cinema, The Lido is a nod to times gone by when cinema was a glamourous night out.
This Hawthorn venue also has its share of off-beat screenings, such as cult classics from the 1940s; new release parties; Q&A sessions; classic Hollywood matinees; retrospectives; anniversary screenings; concerts; and their very own Lido Short Stack, a festival allowing local filmmakers to show their work on the big screen.
The Lido is licensed and offers a local curated vegetarian menu, cheese platters and a selection of drinks such as sangria and mulled wine.
After an impressive refurbishment, heading to Hoyts Melbourne Central after work or for your Saturday night out gives lux a new name. Featuring 12 screens showing everything from the latest blockbusters to film premieres, MIFF screenings, virtual reality and arthouse releases, the venue has the classic cinema candy bars, as well as in-house dining and alcoholic beverages for the Hoyts LUX section.
The Melbourne Central location also provides a variety of experiences, from in-cinema dining and plush recliners in LUX premium to the large Xtremescreen and 3D movie offerings. At Hoyts Melbourne Central, there is something for everyone in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD.
We would be remiss to talk about cinema in Melbourne without the biggest and grandest experience on offer. Home to the world’s largest cinema screen at 32m x 23m, seeing a film at Imax in their purposely designed curved space ‘transports [the] audience right into the action.’ With surround sound designed to create a truly ‘immersive’ cinema experience, Imax is where you come to engross yourself fully inside the magic of cinema.
Imax is home to the Prequel Bar, serving standard movie treats and wines and beers from Mountain Goat brewery during special event screenings.
Think 3D experiences, major blockbusters, educational events, cinema rewinds and close-up nature specials, an Imax experience is one like no other.
Those looking for a fully immersive experience can see select films where the cinema becomes a part of the film, putting the viewer literally in the movie. Think anything from motion simulators, fog, mist, breeze, scents and vibrations.