Winter has well and truly hit Melbourne, and the days of beer gardens, rooftop bars and the beach are but a distant memory. But fear not! Melbourne does winter just as well as it does summer—think everything from sipping coffee in a cosy cafe to our city’s world-class array of live music, theatres and galleries. Best of all, we've got some truly excellent cinemas where you can comfortably waste an entire afternoon or evening catching up on a latest blockbuster, arthouse flick or perhaps revisit a classic from your childhood. Here's our pick of Melbourne's best cinemas—just add popcorn, soft drink and a bag of mixed lollies for your perfect winter escape.
Known as Melbourne's premier home of quality arthouse and contemporary cinema, Cinema Nova has been a Lygon Street mainstay for more than two decades. Nova began life in 1992, and has grown over time to now include 11 screens. Put simply, if a film's worth seeing, it’s showing at Nova. On any given day, you can expect to catch anything from credible Hollywood flicks to the latest indie releases, as well as a great range of documentaries and even late-night screenings of cult favourites like The Room. Upgrade your evening with a ticket to Nova Deluxe (Spanish tapas and drinks delivered to your seat? Count us in!), or a weekend High Tea. Nova also wins bonus points for its close proximity to dozens of top-notch Carlton eateries. What more could you want?
Melbourne's cinema lovers wept when St Kilda's iconic Astor Theatre shut its doors for what seemed to be the final time in April. But, like a phoenix from the ashes, the Astor re-opened earlier this month, proving you can't keep a Melbourne landmark down. Since 1936, the beautiful Art Deco building has been known as one of the city's best cinemas, and in recent decades has become known for its legendary schedules packed with classics, cult films and new releases. Where else can you watch The Avengers one night, and a double-header of The Goonies and Beetlejuice the next? The answer, now and forever, is The Astor. Hot tip: Tickets are cheapest on Wednesday and Thursdays.
If aesthetics matter to you, there's no more beautiful cinema in Melbourne than Palace Westgarth. Formerly known as the Valhalla, the Westgarth has occupied the same spot on High Street, Northcote since the late 1980s. More recently, the three-screen cinema had a $4 million facelift, but still retains its stunning Art Deco features throughout, including eye-catching plush carpet and a grand sweeping staircase heading to two upstairs cinemas. Part of the Palace Cinemas chain, Westgarth offers all the latest blockbusters and arthouse hits, as well as international film festivals. The Melbourne cinema is also licensed and has one of the best candy bars in town.
Federation Square's Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) isn't necessarily for your casual film fan: you won't find the latest superhero adaptation on the big screen here. Rather, ACMI is a celebration of all things cinema, TV and digital media. Across several large screens (complete with some of the comfiest cinema seats around), ACMI screens a diverse range of foreign films, documentaries and ‘in conversation’ events with creative types. From later this month until October, you can relive your childhood with regular screenings of Labyrinth as part of the venue’s David Bowie is exhibition, direct from London’s V&A Museum. There's also a great gift shop where you can score everything from A Clockwork Orange t-shirts to Parks and Recreation greeting cards.
Another of our favourite Melbourne cinemas, Kino Cinema is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Whatever you're into—be it new releases, foreign films, documentaries or special events—chances are you'll find something to suit you here. Kino boasts seven screens, each with plush seats and wall-to-wall screens, and an even better candy bar stocked with handmade choc tops, healthy choice popcorn (cooked in olive oil) and local and international beer and wine choices. It's also responsible for many a city worker or student calling in sick on Mondays, when all tickets are just $8.50. Kino regularly hosts forums, Q&As and film festivals, and even offers discounted car parking in the underground carpark for ticket holders.
Yarraville's Sun Theatre has a rich history. The cinema first opened in 1938 and once featured a 'pram room' where parents could leave their babies for some downtime and be contacted via the cinema screen when their child demanded attention! These days, the Sun has six boutique screens, each named after local landmarks like The Barkly (a defunct Footscray cinema) and The Grand (the last cinema to close in Footscray). The Sun's owners pride themselves on the building's original Art Deco architecture and ample leg room for patrons—there are even coffee tables to rest your popcorn on! New releases and classics dominate the schedule, and wine connoisseurs will be thrilled with the Sun's famous wine cellar. Parents aren't forgotten either, with a great range of kids films and special activities.
The newest addition to Melbourne's cinema landscape, Hawthorn's Lido Cinemas, has been a long time coming. The brainchild of Eddie and Lindy Tamir, who redeveloped Elsternwick's Classic and Belgrave's Cameo, the Lido will feature eight screens including a rooftop cinema. Expect a diverse collection of blockbusters, arthouse films and foreign language flicks, as well as a welcome emphasis on Australian cinema and even local festivals such as the annual retrospective of work by nearby Swinburne University students. The Lido lived previous lives as a dance school and a cabaret club, and the building’s original pressed metal ceiling and stained glass portholes have been retained. The Lido also boasts a rooftop cinema, sure to be a hit in the warmer months.
Perhaps Cameo Cinemas' famous outdoor screen—such an amazing place to spend a balmy summer's evening—isn't of much use at this time of year, but fortunately the Belgrave venue still includes five indoor cinemas. The Cameo originally opened in 1935, and has several owners along the way. Over the decades it has become known as an icon of the Dandenong Ranges, and its original Art Deco features still impress today. Melbourne cinema buffs can show their support by becoming a Cameo Club Member, entitling them to cheap tickets, members-only preview screenings and even discounts at local cafes, restaurants and shops. It’s an enticing way to spend a night out of the city.
If we had to create a check list of ingredients our favourite Melbourne cinemas must have, Elsternwick’s Classic Cinemas ticks all the boxes. Big screens and beautifully appointed seating? Check. Handmade choc tops? Check. Free parking? Check. The Classic is the longest continuously operating cinema in Victoria, and has been extensively refurbished over the past 15 years. With the Classic now boasting six state-of-the-art screens, you can expect an even mix of blockbusters and arthouse titles, as well as international film festivals and weekly Spit the Dummy sessions for mums and bubs.
Image Credit: Barry Plant