The Art Deco-style Sun cinema in Melbourne’s western suburb of Yarraville. (Tom Cockrem/LPI)
Melbourne holds the unofficial title of Australia’s most cultured and sophisticated city, so it is no surprise that there are a plethora of different cinematic experiences on offer. It is not just about finding the latest blockbuster, arthouse, cult, Bollywood or classic film — Melbourne is full of unique movie houses in which to watch them. With such a bounty available, you are bound to find the right cinema and film to suit your style.
Cinemas with a difference
If there is a way to differentiate the movie-going experience, Melbourne has it covered. These cinemas will whisk you away on a twilight picnic, leave you on a city rooftop, lead you down a secret garden path or even take you back in time -- all while enjoying an arthouse classic or new release.
Melbourne’s Underground Cinema, a monthly cinema costume party held in secret locations across the city, does not come with a bucket of stale popcorn. Punters pay for tickets to see an unnamed film at an unknown location with instructions to dress to a certain theme. Locations are shared online 24 hours before the event, whereupon attendees step into a themed party, filled with performances and flowing wine. The movie choice is always a surprise, and half the fun is trying to work out which film will be screened.
Melburnians are obsessed with putting things on rooftops (pools, bars, beehives and sometimes even actual roofs), so it should come as no surprise that there is a cinema on one. Though the climb up the stairs to Rooftop Cinema is quite a workout, an array of drinks and food await at the top. As dusk falls, settle into your deckchair, grab a blanket and watch from a selection of cult classics while surrounded by the twinkling lights of a busy city.
Moonlight Cinema, a warm-weather favourite, screens every summer in Melbourne’s stunning Royal Botanic Gardens. Sit on the grass and watch the bats swoop across the dusk skyline to give a dramatic air to the evening. If you are feeling flush, upgrade to “Gold Grass”, the best spot on the lawn and a beanbag.
The Russell Street Cinema is so magically 1980s that crossing the threshold will instantly transform your iPhone into a Sony Walkman. Also known as Event Cinema or Greater Union, the movie house features a carpet so aggressively ugly it almost qualifies as modern art and is worth the cost of admission alone. Inside, a mixture of blockbuster and Bollywood favourites play on its cavernous array of screens.
Art Deco dames
Renowned as the antipodean epicentre of Art Deco architecture, Melbourne is littered with gigantic cinemas of yesteryear. With the Art Deco style going hand-in-hand with the burgeoning popularity of the silver screen, these old dames continue to age gracefully.
In the “hills”, Melbourne’s verdant forests southeast of the city, the Cameo’s Art Deco complex screens a variety of new releases year-round. But in the summer, the cinema offers deckchairs, blankets and headphones for outdoor evening screenings surrounded by gumtrees and kookaburra. Its recent refurbishment has not diminished its character or charm.
Though originally conceived as a Classical building, the Westgarth has been given an Art Deco facelift. Previously known for showing raucous cult classics and all-night sci-fi marathons, this cinema now shows the latest blockbusters.
People will tell you to go to the Rivoli for true Art Deco charm, and perhaps you too will be won over by the grand scale of excessively tasteful redecoration. Though some might debate it has lost its charm – its rooftop bar and new releases regularly draw in a well-heeled crowd.
With buckets of charm, the Sun, an honest inner-city stalwart, is well-loved by its local community. Located in the bubbling hub of Yarraville, relax in the downstairs café or wander around the quaint neighbourhood cafes and boutique shops before venturing in for a new release.
Of all the Art Deco delights on offer in Melbourne, the Astor is possibly the most quintessential. This glorious building continues to screen double-features of cult classics, select new releases and art house favourites. Say hello to the resident cat Marzipan, who, if you are lucky, will sit on your lap during one of the films.
While there are not many left in existence, there are still some options for those hankering for the old school experience. Close to the city, the Coburg drive-in is an inner-city family favourite that admits kids under 12 for free. The heritage-listed beachside Dromana drive-in is one of the oldest within the state.
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